Focused on series with Dodgers, combined gem is no hit with Braves

September 12, 1991|By Bob Nightengale | Bob Nightengale,Los Angeles Times

ATLANTA -- There were no champagne celebrations last night in the Atlanta Braves' clubhouse. There was no back-slapping, shouting or even much laughter.

If you didn't know better, you'd have thought the Braves' 1-0 win over San Diego was nothing more than a well-pitched game.

Is this the way you're supposed to act when you pitch the first combined no-hitter in National League history?

The trio of Kent Mercker, Mark Wohlers and Alejandro Pena combined for the first no-hitter by the Braves since Phil Niekro against the Padres on Aug. 5, 1973.

Yesterday's was the seventh no-hitter this season in the big leagues and the seventh combined no-hitter in major-league history, the previous six coming in the American League. And it came compliments of what must be considered a generous decision by official scorer Mark Frederickson on Darrin Jackson's ground ball in the ninth inning.

You think the Braves acted rather nonchalant about their feat?

Consider this:

When Braves' leftfielder Otis Nixon caught Tony Gwynn's fly ball for the final out, he ran toward the dugout, looked up at the cheering crowd of 20,477 and actually flipped the ball into the stands.

His teammates looked at him in disbelief. Nixon shrugged sheepishly. Soon, there were the Braves, trading bats, balls and everything else they could find to the fan to please return the historic ball.

Once the ball was safely in the clubhouse, it found its way to Pena's locker.

Even if the Braves don't consider such a ball worthy for Cooperstown, this city is reacting much differently.

It has been going bonkers for two months, even publishing the standings on the front page of its paper.

With the Braves in first place by one-half game and with three sellouts already guaranteed this weekend, the city firmly has braced itself for the Dodgers.

"Everybody's got the fever now," Braves catcher Greg Olson said. "A lot of things have happened to us this year, and after tonight, there's really one thing left.

"And that's to win the National League West."

Never have the Braves been more confident that they can become the first team in NL history to ascend from last place to first place. After what the Padres witnessed yesterday, they don't doubt it either.

"When a team puts it all together," Padres manager Greg Riddoch said, "special things happen. I think you're seeing that now."

The Padres, whose only real threat for a hit had been Fred McGriff's fly ball to the warning track in the seventh inning, entered the ninth facing Pena.

Pinch-hitter Bip Roberts opened by meekly grounding to second. Tony Fernandez flied to left. Jackson hit a high chopper toward shortstop Rafael Belliard. Third baseman Terry Pendleton stepped in front of Belliard and was set to field the ball, but lost it in the lights.

The ball caromed off the end of Belliard's glove and bounced away. The crowd groaned in unison. Pena cursed under his breath.

But in a matter of seconds, the scoring call was shown on the centerfield scoreboard:

E-5.

The crowd let out a tremendous cheer, and Pena went back to work, forcing Gwynn to fly out to Nixon.

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