Answering to a higher calling - by umpires

But O's aren't crediting MLB's relaxed strike zone as sole reason for no-no

April 05, 2001|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

Before Japanese pitcher Hideo Nomo held the Orioles hitless last night at Camden Yards, there had not been a no-hitter in the major leagues since former University of Maryland star Eric Milton pitched one against the Anaheim Angels in September 1999.

But three days after Major League Baseball officially unveiled its new strike zone for the regular season, Nomo took advantage of the bigger zone to throw the second no-hitter of his American career.

Coincidence?

Nomo didn't think so.

"The high fastball did help me tonight," Nomo said through an interpreter.

Plate umpire Eric Cooper also called some pitches off the plate - even though the tradeoff for the high strike was supposed to be a tighter horizontal zone - but the Orioles did not lay this game at the feet of the umpiring crew.

"The umpires certainly didn't give Nomo his no-hitter," said Orioles manager Mike Hargrove. "He went out there and threw strikes. He stayed ahead and threw a great splitter. I'm not going to whine about the umpire. I thought Eric Cooper did a good job for both teams."

Orioles second baseman Delino DeShields acknowledged that the strike zone was - at times - wider and taller than most hitters would prefer, but chalked it up to the changes dictated by Major League Baseball rather than to any serious flaw in the performance of the home plate umpires.

"I'm not complaining about it," DeShields said. "That's the way it's going to be. He threw a good game."

The new strike zone was instituted for spring training, and veteran umpires traveled to every spring training camp to brief players on how it would be interpreted. The zone that Cooper called last night might have been a little wide, but Nomo was in such control of his fastball and split-fingered pitch that the Orioles didn't feel like it was worth complaining about anything else.

"He kept us off balance all night," said second baseman Jerry Hairston. "He had a tremendous split-finger tonight and he also had good movement on his fastball. He just pitched a great game. He was very deceiving."

Orioles starter Sidney Ponson came up on the wrong end of a game in which he also pitched very well, but he said that whatever benefit Nomo derived from the high strike also factored in his four-hit performance over 7 1/3 innings.

"He [Cooper] called a fair zone today," said Ponson, who struck out 10 batters and looked like the more overpowering pitcher early. "He called some pitches for me that I thought were balls.

"You just have to tip your hat to that guy [Nomo]. He mixed his pitches right. My teammates tried everything to get a hit against him, but we just didn't have it tonight."

The no-hitter was the first by a Red Sox pitcher since Dave Morehead's against the Cleveland Indians on Sept. 16, 1965.

Matt Young pitched an eight-inning no-hitter in 1992, but it was wiped out of the record books when baseball changed the rules to recognize only nine-inning and extra-inning no-hitters.

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