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Game 130

August 29, 1977 – Duane Kuiper’s Only Home Run in 3,379 At Bats

Tribe pitcher Rick Waits was facing future Cy Young winner and South Euclid native Steve Stone and the White Sox. Just over 6,000 fans were present in Municipal Stadium for this Monday night contest. The White Sox were still battling for the division lead, and so ABC had decided to show the game regionally as part of Monday NIght Baseball. The start time was moved from 7:30PM to 8:40, and then up to 8:30. 

Indians second baseman Duane Kuiper was in his third year in the majors. Kuiper was a solid second baseman, with a .281 batting average. However, he did not hit for power. 

Waits retired the Sox in order to start the game. Then, in the bottom of the first, Stone struck out the leadoff hitter Paul Dade. Kuiper stepped in and sent Stone’s pitch into the empty Municipal Stadium seats in right field.

Kuiper later remembered, “I hit it, and I saw Wayne Nordhagen, the right fielder, running after it, and I saw his number. And I never saw a right fielder’s number. I saw him running back, and I said, ‘You know what? This is going to go out.’”

The ball bounced off the empty seat and back into the outfield. Nordhagen picked it up and fired it back to the Indians dugout. This was Kuiper’s first home run in 1,381 at bats. 

Two batters later, Andre Thornton laced a ball into left field which bounced past the charging left fielder Ritchie Zisk. By the time Zisk tracked it down, Thornton had an inside-the-park home run. Bruce Bochte followed with a powerful homer to deep left field to put the Tribe up 3-0.

Stone complained, “I was told the game was going to start 8:40 local time, and it started 10 minutes early.  I couldn’t believe it. I need about 25 minutes to warm up…I wasn’t ready to pitch. I had nothing in the first inning.”

Waits went on to pitch a complete game. He gave up only two runs on six hits while striking out eight White Sox. 

Kuiper ended his night 2 for 5 with his 45th RBI of the season. Kuiper would go on to play twelve seasons in the majors. His home run in Game 130 of 1977 is his only major league homer in 3,379 at-bats. 

Since World War II (post-deadball era), no one is within 1,000 at bats of Kuiper with only one recorded home run. Woody Woodward had only one in 2,187 at-bats for the Braves and Reds. Al Newman had one homer in 2,107 at bats for the Expos, Twins, and Rangers. Which leaves Duane Kuiper as the undisputed king of not hitting home runs. 

Baseball Reference Box Score

Honorable Mention: August 31, 2017 – Zach McAllister’s Kick-Save

Still one of the most unlikely and amazing put-outs I have ever seen. The Indians would go on to beat the Twins in 10 innings. 

Baseball Reference Box Score

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Game 41

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.

Cleveland Plain Dealer Collection

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.  

Baseball Reference Box Score

Many thanks to Tommy Smith. I have lightly edited his comments to me for clarity.

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