Mercker, Braves' Fab 5th, steps up with no-hitter

April 09, 1994|By Knight-Ridder News Service

LOS ANGLES — LOS ANGELES -- "Fab Four!" was the ringing headline splashed across the top of a newspaper hanging in the locker of Atlanta Braves left-hander Kent Mercker, who is certainly not one of the four -- not with guys like Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, Steve Avery and Greg Maddux around -- and until last night he wasn't all that "fab" either.

In five years with the Braves he'd won all of 15 games.

But the 26-year-old Mercker out-Fabbed the other Four, big time, pitching a no-hit, no-run game against the Los Angeles Dodgers, winning, 6-0, before a Dodger Stadium crowd of 36,546 that got on his side from the seventh inning on.

Mercker had come close a couple of times before -- once, in 1991, he even shared in a Braves' no-hitter -- but this time it was his all the way.

"I guess I had something to prove," he said, "since I'd gone six [hitless] innings two other times. It wasn't my choice, I didn't get to finish, but that's when I started thinking about this one, in the sixth."

Somewhere in there, too, Chan Ho Park, the Dodgers' hot South Korean pitching prospect, also started thinking, figuring it was about time he got into a game.

He pitched the ninth, not exactly the way he'd have liked -- he gave up two runs -- but made history nonetheless: the first Korean to pitch in the big leagues.

"He was a little nervous," manager Tom Lasorda said of Park, who was inadvertently introduced as Ho Chan. "This is history for his country. I'm proud of him."

Good thing Lasorda had something to be proud of. It couldn't have been his hitters, who have been shut out now for 19 innings, are batting a wimpy .138 and, last night against Mercker, the Braves' No. 5 starter, only marginally even came close to getting a hit.

In the fifth inning, Deion Sanders made a sprawling, face-down catch of Jose Offerman's low liner to center.

In the sixth inning, with Brett Butler on first with one of four walks issued by Mercker, Butler, on his own, took off for second. The batter, Eric Karros, hit the ball well, a liner headed for center. Except with Butler running, the second baseman, Mark Lemke, dashed over to cover second -- and easily gloved Karros' liner.

That was it. Everything else was routine, grounders here and there, just five fly-ball outs and 10 strikeouts.

Mercker finished with a flourish, retiring the final 11 Dodgers in order. "He pitched a great game," said Dodgers catcher Mike Piazza, who's off to a struggling start, just one hit in 16 at-bats, none his past 13. "He had a very good changeup. He was hitting the corners all night with it."

"That was my big pitch," Mercker said of his change. "Before, basically, I was a one-pitch pitcher. Now that I've got that extra pitch it takes off a lot of pressure."

Pedro Astacio, the Dodgers' starter, didn't do too badly. He struck out a career-high 11, but he also gave up three homers -- to Atlanta's power hitters, Terry Pendleton, Fred McGriff and David Justice who, among them, had just two RBIs in the Braves' first four games.

"The offense really helped me," acknowledged Mercker. "If that was a one-run game I might have been out of there."

The no-hitter was the 14th in Braves history. It was the first no-hitter at Dodger Stadium since Dennis Martinez pitched a perfect game for the Montreal Expos in 1991.

The Braves must still think they're in the National League West; they've opened 5-0 against their old foes, the San Diego Padres and the Dodgers, their best start since they opened 1982 with a 13-0 mark.

One reason is starting pitching. One time through the rotation and the opposition has been restricted to a mere .138 combined average.

Mercker, the fifth starter, might not even start against for two weeks because of numerous days off on the Braves' schedule.

"I don't feel overshadowed, not at all," Mercker said when asked about the newspaper heading. "Those other guys have all the pressure. I'm just trying to win a game. Hey, they can be the Fab Four, and I'll be the Plus One the rest of my life if I do that again."

EARLY BLOOMERS

Kent Mercker's no-hitter was the third earliest by calendar date in major-league history.

April 7, 1979: Ken Forsch, Houston vs. Atlanta, (6-0).

April 7, 1984: Jack Morris, Detroit at Chicago, (4-0).

Last night: Kent Mercker, Atlanta at Los Angeles, (6-0).

BRAVE EFFORTS

No-hitters by Braves since the team moved to Atlanta in 1966:

Aug. 5, 1973: Phil Niekro vs. San Diego, 9-0.

Sept. 11, 1991: Kent Mercker (6 IP), Mark Wohlers (2), Alejandro Pena (1), vs. San Diego, 1-0.

=1 Last night: Kent Mercker at Los Angeles, 6-0.

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