May 30, 1977 – Dennis Eckersley’s Memorial Day No Hitter
On Memorial Day 1977, the Angels were in town and Cleveland had a young, brash pitcher on the mound. Dennis Eckersley was matched up with Angels ace Frank Tanana.
Eckersley issued one walk, with two outs in the top of the first to first baseman Tony Solaita.
In the bottom of the first, Duane Kuiper hit a fly ball to center field. Gil Flores attempted a shoestring catch, but narrowly missed the ball. The hit rolled all the way to the outfield wall and Kuiper was aboard with a triple. Right fielder Jim Norris executed a suicide squeeze to bring Kuiper home. This first-inning run is the only support Eck would need.
Mowing through the Angels lineup, Eckersley struck out twelve. The only other Angels baserunner was Bobby Bonds. He struck out to lead off the eighth, but strike three eluded Tribe catcher Ray Fosse. Bonds made it safely to first base, and it was ruled a wild pitch. Bonds was then neutralized on a ground ball double play by Don Baylor.
Tommy Smith, a good friend of our family and an old teammate of my father shared a story with me about his experience of this game:
“We had started the day finishing up in third place in the 2U Cleveland Umpires Tournament. Our last game concluded about 1PM. Four of us, along with three of the wives decided to grab a bite to eat at the local tavern and make plans for the rest of the evening. Our intention was to go see the young phenom Dennis Eckersley pitch on a beautiful evening.
This is where our plans hit a snag. One–and only one–of the wives decided she had seen enough baseball and softball in the last three days and was not going to go see another game that evening. So, we asked what she wanted to do.
She wanted us all to go see a movie. We let her have her way and went to see “It’s Alive”, one of the worst movies I believe I have ever seen in my life. We walked out of the theater about 9:15 PM, got in our cars and turned on the game as we headed out to dinner.
It was the top of the 8th inning, and Eckersley had not given up a hit. A no-no, and we were missing it! We got to the restaurant in the top of the 9th and the ladies walked in while the four guys stayed near the car to hear the end of the game.
Leading of the top of the ninth for the Halos was Bobby Grich. He struck out for the second time of the evening and was Eck’s 11th strikeout victim. Next was pinch hitter Willie Aiken, so lifted a short fly ball to left for out number two.
Everyone in the crowd was up on their feet as Gil Flores came to the plate. We turned the car radio up as loud as it would go, and none of us said a word, hoping not to jinx the moment. Strike one was called and Flores was not happy. Ball one came and the crowd was anxious. The third pitch was fouled back and now the count was 1 – 2. You could hear a pin drop in the stadium–and in the parking lot–as the next pitch was delivered.
Swing and a miss! Strike three! And Dennis Eckersley was now a part of baseball history. The four of us looked at each other and couldn’t utter a word. Baseball history in our own back yard and we had missed it in favor of “It’s Alive.” A game that goes down in Indians history…sure would have been nice to have been there.”
Eckersley would go on to strike out over 191 batters in the 1977 season, leading the league with a 3.54 strikeout to walk ratio. He will appear again in this project, later in his career pitching for his hometown Oakland As in Game 71.
Many thanks to Tommy Smith. I have lightly edited his comments to me for clarity.