In his Boston Red Sox debut, Hideo Nomo painted history at the Orioles' expense last night when the Japanese forkball specialist became the first pitcher in Camden Yards history to throw a no-hitter. He befuddled and frustrated the Orioles, 3-0, before 35,602 who came to see the home team curiosity and were rewarded instead with a visitor's surgery.
Three years after the Orioles rejected him as a health risk, Nomo, 32, threw his second carer no-hitter at a lineup composed of several players unfamiliar with his peek-a-boo, hesitation delivery. They won't soon forget it.
Nomo struck out 11, including eight after the fifth inning. He walked three and overcame one error by a defense that was asked to make just one spectacular play behind him. Nomo struck out every Oriole except first baseman Chris Richard, who was facing him for the first time, and Cal Ripken.
"I've always heard what a horse Nomo is and he really proved that tonight," Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek said. "He got stronger and his fastball got better as the game went on. His fastball is what made it tonight. He was phenomenal."
The Orioles suffered the fifth no-hitter in their history and the first since the Chicago White Sox's Wilson Alvarez beat them at Memorial Stadium on Aug. 11, 1991, in his second major-league appearance.
Nomo joined Cy Young, Jim Bunning and Nolan Ryan as the only pitchers with no-hitters in both leagues. Nomo pitched one for the Los Angeles Dodgers against the Colorado Rockies on Sept. 17, 1996.
Nomo also pitched the earliest no-hitter by calendar in baseball history, doing it three days earlier than Houston's Ken Forsch in 1979 and Detroit's Jack Morris in 1984.
It was the game's first since University of Maryland alum Eric Milton performed the feat for the Minnesota Twins on Sept. 11, 1999.
Nomo entered the ninth inning having thrown 99 pitches, 62 of them strikes. He got Brady Anderson to ground back to the mound for the first out, then benefited from the game's best defensive play.
Second baseman Mike Lansing saved the no-hitter with a running, rolling catch in shallow center field against Mike Bordick. The game ended when Delino DeShields flared a fly ball to left field that Troy O'Leary easily cradled.
After pitching 3 1/2 years for the Dodgers, Nomo then bounced to the New York Mets, Milwaukee Brewers and Detroit Tigers while briefly being mentioned as a trade possibility for the Orioles in between. Last night, his career came full circle at the expense of Orioles starting pitcher Sidney Ponson, whose early dominance overshadowed Nomo for four innings.
Ponson averaged better than 7 2/3 innings in 10 starts after last July's clubhouse purge and the defensive improvement that resulted. His 3-6 record was more a measure of inadequate offensive support than his own struggles. Ponson's 3.21 September ERA was his best of last season.
Last night, he unveiled a more compact delivery and a commitment to working more quickly.
Ponson's nine wins last season were deceptive for more reasons than uneven support. His bullpen blew six leads behind him while he led the staff with 19 quality starts.
Delayed 43 minutes by a power outage that first darkened the ball-park and eventually the B&O warehouse, Ponson emerged in overpowering form. He struck out two in the first inning, including Red Sox center fielder Carl Everett on the front end of an inning-ending double play.
Chasing his career-high 11 strikeouts, Ponson then struck out the side in the second, including a devastating 3-2 curveball that chased right fielder Manny Ramirez for the first out.
Ponson, 24, has been defined by his massive potential since arriving in May 1998. His 29-34 career record is often attributed to his predictability. Last night made the point again.
After blowing away five of the first six he faced, Ponson was reached for a scorching grounder by Sean Hillenbrand that went through third baseman Ripken's legs. Ripken absorbed the error when the grounder failed to come up.
Daubach wasted no time jumping Ponson's first pitch - a thigh-high fastball that tailed toward the outside corner - and drove it the opposite way two rows deep into the left-field seats.
Even at his most dominant, Ponson has been vulnerable to the home run, particularly at home. He surrendered 21 of last season's 30 home runs at home.
One mistake shouldn't doom a pitcher to a loss, especially when he's as dominant as Ponson appeared in last night's early innings. But Nomo offered the Orioles no room to exploit him. He allowed only one base runner before two outs then struck out the side in the sixth and seventh innings.
Of course, Ponson committed his second sin in the eighth inning, again via a home run. Craig Grebeck led off the inning by wrapping a home run around the right-field foul pole for a 3-0 lead. Ponson was again left to satisfy himself with an no compensation for a quality outing.