High point for Nomo was finding the zone

April 05, 2001|By Mike Preston

HIDEO NOMO tested the new strike zone in Major League Baseball last night, and pitched a no-hitter.

The man nicknamed "The Tornado" brought more deception than heat last night in throwing baseball's first no-hitter of the 2001 season in the Boston Red Sox's 3-0 win against the Orioles before an announced crowd of 35,602 at Camden Yards.

If there was anyone on the Boston staff that was going to threw a no-hitter, many thought it would be ace Pedro Martinez in the season opener on Monday.

But Nomo upstaged Martinez and the Orioles, who suffered a blackout before the game and a power outage during it. By the end of the night, Nomo threw 110 pitches, 69 for strikes, and afterward he was hugged by catcher Jason Varitek before being mobbed by teammates on the field.

Nomo was all over the plate, but he got a lot of high strikes. His inside stuff wasn't bad either. He left the Orioles confused and wondering where the new strike zone is.

The ump seemed a little confused, too.

"It helped me tonight," said Nomo, a native of Tokyo, Japan, through a translator. "That high fastball did help me tonight.

"I felt pretty good throughout the game, as I was going into the ninth inning," said Nomo, who is with his fourth organization in three years. "I wasn't really nervous but I had the same thought throughout the game. I wasn't thinking too much. I trusted the catcher to follow his lead and I threw it home."

When asked if the strike zone was consistent last night, Orioles designated hitter Delino DeShields said: "At times. I'm not going complain about it. That's the way it's going to be."

Nomo seemed to get stronger as the game went on striking out seven Orioles from the sixth inning on. Nomo's fastball topped out at 90 miles an hour, but he was still throwing 88 in the seventh inning. But Nomo, who usually works high anyway, was mixing his pitches well.

"There were some high strikes called, but it's going to be an ongoing adjustment for everyone," said Varitek. "His location and change of speed is why he was successful."

Nomo's forkball was nasty. The Orioles didn't have a clue."[Home plate umpire Eric Cooper] called a fair game, he called it for both sides," said Orioles losing pitcher Sidney Ponson.

The last time Nomo threw a no-hitter was as a Dodger in 1996 at Coors Field. The last time the Orioles were no-hit was in 1991 at Memorial Stadium against the Chicago White Sox and pitcher Wilson Alvarez.

Nomo's no-hitter was the first at Camden Yards. But the Orioles haven't gotten a lot of hits here in the first two games. They got only six hits in 11 innings on Opening Day, now six hits in the last 20. Nomo had three walks and 11 strikeouts.

"The umpire certainly didn't give Nomo his no-hitter," said Orioles manager Mike Hargrove. "He went out and threw strikes and stayed ahead us. He was ahead of a lot of hitters all night long. He went out and threw strikes and his splitter was very effective."

By the end of the seventh inning, the crowd, split about 50-50 in Orioles vs. Red Sox fans, had started to cheer on Nomo. That was good to see because these weren't the usual corporate types that show up.

These were hard-core fans who came out despite the chilly weather.

They got what they paid for even if it came from the opposition.

When Orioles center fielder Melvin Mora questioned a high strike call in the seventh, he got a few jeers from the crowd.

When Orioles left fielder Brady Anderson took an inside pitch for a ball to lead off the ninth, the crowd booed. When shortstop Mike Bordick, the next batter, lined a soft liner to center field that second baseman Mike Lansing ran down, the crowd gave Nomo a standing ovation.

Nomo owned the crowd and the Orioles. He struck out the side in the sixth and seventh innings. He threw the first no-hitter since Minnesota's Eric Milton blanked Anaheim, 7-0, on Sept. 11, 1999.

He took advantage of the league's new strike zone, and had the Orioles guessing most of the night.

And they always guessed wrong.

"I think he handled the ninth-inning emotions well," said Red Sox pitching coach Joe Kerrigan. "You could see on his face that he was very focused. Nothing bothered him. It's one of those situations where a bomb could go off on the side of the mound and he'd still be looking for the the signs. He had great intensity."

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