Revisiting Dave Stieb’s Chase for Perfection

“If I haven’t gotten a no-hitter after three times,” Dave Stieb said, ”I doubt if I ever will.”

The above quote was taken from an August 5, 1989 New York Times article, the night after Dave Stieb took a perfect game into the 9th inning against the New York Yankees before Roberto Kelly hit a two out double to break up the bid for perfection.  Steve Sax followed with a single, scoring Kelly, and giving Stieb a complete game two-hitter.

Coming into his August 4th start, Stieb has thrown four career one-hitters.  Stieb would go on to throw his fifth career one-hitter three weeks later against Milwaukee.  Finally, in September, 1990, Stieb got his no-hitter against the Cleveland Indians.  It was the end of a 12 year quest that began on June 29th, 1979 against the Baltimore Orioles.

Stieb’s first major league start lasted six innings, giving up six hits and six runs, five of them earned.  The Blue Jays lost the game 6-1.  He started 18 games in his rookie season, going 8-8 with seven complete games.   The highlight of the season was a complete game, four hit shutout against the Chicago White Sox in mid-August.

Stieb went 12-15 in his 1980 sophomore season, highlighted by back to back three-hitters in July against the Cleveland Indians and Seattle Mariners.   He threw a three-hitter in both 1981 and 1982, the later being an 11 inning performance that the Jays won in the 12th.   You read that correctly; Stieb went 11 innings that day.  19 of his 38 starts in 1982 were complete games, which doesn’t include the 11 inning performance.  In 2011, Roy Halladay led the major leagues with 9 complete games, followed by Cliff Lee and Carl Pavano with 7.

In 1982, Stieb nibbled closer to perfection, throwing two two-hitters during the season.  In 1983, he added another three three-hitters.  In 1985, he made it eight career three-hitters against the White Sox in a 6-1 victory.

The torturous quest for a no-hitter really began in 1988.  Stieb threw three one-hitters that season, including his final two starts of the season.   Selected game information from retrosheet.org is presented below for each game.

Game Played on Tuesday, May 31, 1988 (N) at Exhibition Stadium

MIL A    0  0  0    0  0  0    0  0  0  -   0  1  2
TOR A    0  6  0    0  2  0    1  0  x  -   9 11  0
PITCHING

Milwaukee Brewers            IP     H   R  ER  BB  SO  HR BFP
Bosio L(6-6)                  1.2   7   6   5   0   1   0  13
Knudson                       4.1   2   2   1   1   1   0  15
Clear                         2     2   1   1   2   1   0  10
Totals                        8    11   9   7   3   3   0  38

Toronto Blue Jays            IP     H   R  ER  BB  SO  HR BFP
Stieb W(7-3)                  9     1   0   0   0   5   0  28
BREWERS 4TH: Molitor lined to shortstop; Surhoff singled; Yount
flied out to center; Brock forced Surhoff (second to shortstop);
0 R, 1 H, 0 E, 1 LOB.  Brewers 0, Blue Jays 6.

Stieb’s first one-hitter does not have the heartbreak that several of his later starts contained.  BJ Surhoff singled in the fourth and was the only Brewer baserunner that day.

Game Played on Saturday, September 24, 1988 (N) at Cleveland Stadium

TOR A    0  0  0    0  0  0    0  0  1  -   1  9  0
CLE A    0  0  0    0  0  0    0  0  0  -   0  1  0
PITCHING

Toronto Blue Jays            IP     H   R  ER  BB  SO  HR BFP
Stieb W(15-8)                 9     1   0   0   2   8   0  29

Cleveland Indians            IP     H   R  ER  BB  SO  HR BFP
Nichols L(1-6)                9     9   1   1   3   3   0  36
INDIANS 9TH: CAMPUSANO REPLACED BELL (PLAYING LF); Allanson
struck out; UPSHAW BATTED FOR ZUVELLA; Upshaw grounded out
(second to first); Franco singled to center; Clark flied to
center; 0 R, 1 H, 0 E, 1 LOB.  Blue Jays 1, Indians 0.

Heartbreak!  Stieb made it down to the final out before Julio Franco hit a routine grounder towards second base.  An insanely high bounce off the end of the infield went over Manny Lee’s head into right field.  After an excruciating wait, it was ruled a hit and not an error.   Blue Jay fans were enraged at the call, though the call was correct.  Once the ball took the crazy bounce, Lee had no chance to make a play.

Game Played on Friday, September 30, 1988 (N) at Exhibition Stadium

BAL A    0  0  0    0  0  0    0  0  0  -   0  1  1
TOR A    1  0  0    0  3  0    0  0  x  -   4  8  0
PITCHING

Baltimore Orioles            IP     H   R  ER  BB  SO  HR BFP
Ballard L(8-12)               8     8   4   4   2   3   0  32

Toronto Blue Jays            IP     H   R  ER  BB  SO  HR BFP
Stieb W(16-8)                 9     1   0   0   1   4   0  28
ORIOLES 4TH: Orsulak was hit by a pitch; Stanicek grounded into
a double play (first to shortstop) [Orsulak out at second]; C.
Ripken grounded out (third to first); 0 R, 0 H, 0 E, 0 LOB.
Orioles 0, Blue Jays 1.

ORIOLES 9TH: Anderson grounded out (first unassisted); STONE
BATTED FOR GERHART; Stone grounded out (pitcher to first);
TRABER BATTED FOR WORTHINGTON; Traber singled to right; Stibe
lost second consecutive no-hitter in 9th inning; Orsulak grounded out (third to first); 0 R, 1 H, 0 E, 1 LOB.

Stieb lost the perfect game in the fourth inning went he hit Joe Orsulak.  He was perfect the rest of the way until pinch hitter, Jim Traber, blooped a single over Fred McGriff’s head in short right field.  Stieb again got within one out of a no-hitter.

What a painful way to end the season.   Stieb finished the season 16-8 with a 3.04ERA.  Despite his brilliance, Stieb did not even manage to land in the top 10 in Cy Young voting.  A fourth place finish in 1982 was as close as he would come to being named the best pitcher in the American League.

Stieb started the 1989 season right where he left off, throwing another one-hitter in his second start of the season against the Yankees.  Another one-hitter against the Brewers followed before the nearly perfect game against the Yankees in August.

Game Played on Monday, April 10, 1989 (N) at Yankee Stadium I

TOR A    0  3  0    0  3  0    0  2  0  -   8 12  0
NY  A    0  0  0    0  0  0    0  0  0  -   0  1  1
Toronto Blue Jays            IP     H   R  ER  BB  SO  HR BFP
Stieb W(1-0)                  9     1   0   0   4   5   0  32

New York Yankees             IP     H   R  ER  BB  SO  HR BFP
Hawkins L(0-2)                4.1   9   6   6   4   3   2  26
Guetterman                    2.2   1   0   0   0   2   0   8
Mohorcic                      2     2   2   1   2   0   1  11
Totals                        9    12   8   7   6   5   3  45
YANKEES 5TH: Pagliarulo lined to right; Quirk singled to center;
Brookens walked [Quirk to second]; Kelly lined to center;
Henderson grounded out (first to pitcher); 0 R, 1 H, 0 E, 2 LOB.

Stieb walked batters in the second and third innings before giving up a single to catcher Jamie Quirk in the fifth inning.  If nothing else, going through these game sheets reminds us how many players come and go in the major leagues without making much of an impact.   Players who only claim to fame are breaking up a no-hitter.

What if I told you that Jamie Quirk had an 18 year major league career?  A career backup catcher, he played with three teams in 1989 and had 85 at bats.  His hit off of Stieb was one of only two hits he had for the Yankees that season.

Game Played on Friday, August 4, 1989 (N) at SkyDome

NY  A    0  0  0    0  0  0    0  0  1  -   1  2  1
TOR A    0  1  0    0  0  1    0  0  x  -   2  5  0
New York Yankees             IP     H   R  ER  BB  SO  HR BFP
Parker L(3-2)                 6     5   2   2   0   1   0  22
Guetterman                    2     0   0   0   0   2   0   6
Totals                        8     5   2   2   0   3   0  28

Toronto Blue Jays            IP     H   R  ER  BB  SO  HR BFP
Stieb W(11-6)                 9     2   1   1   0  11   0  29
YANKEES 9TH: MORRIS BATTED FOR VELARDE; Morris struck out;
PHELPS BATTED FOR ESPINOZA; Phelps struck out; Kelly doubled to
left; Stieb had perfect game with two outs in the 9th;
Sax singled to right [Kelly scored]; Polonia forced Sax (third
to second); 1 R, 2 H, 0 E, 1 LOB.  Yankees 1, Blue Jays 2.

This was the game I referenced at the start of this post.  Here is a link to the full New York Times article.  It is a fascinating read.

Game Played on Saturday, August 26, 1989 (D) at SkyDome

MIL A    0  0  0    0  0  0    0  0  0  -   0  1  1
TOR A    1  0  0    1  1  3    1  0  x  -   7 12  0
Milwaukee Brewers            IP     H   R  ER  BB  SO  HR BFP
Higuera L(9-5)                5.1   8   6   5   1   3   1  27
Crim                          0.2   1   0   0   0   0   0   3
Fossas                        1     3   1   1   0   1   0   6
Navarro                       1     0   0   0   0   2   0   3
Totals                        8    12   7   6   1   6   1  39

Toronto Blue Jays            IP     H   R  ER  BB  SO  HR BFP
Stieb W(13-8)                 9     1   0   0   4   5   0  33

BREWERS 6TH: Molitor flied to left; Romero grounded out (third
to first); Yount singled to third; Brock flied to left; 0 R, 1
H, 0 E, 1 LOB.  Brewers 0, Blue Jays 3.

Stieb lost his perfect game in the fifth before Robin Yount singled in the sixth for the only hit in the game.  If you are going to lose a no-hitter, might as well lose it against a future Hall of Famer.

For those keeping score at home, Stieb was sitting with five one-hitters, three two-hitters and eight three-hitters.  I did not track them, but Stieb probably had another 5-10 four-hitters during a remarkable career.

Dave Stieb’s long journey took 12 seasons and included a biography entitled, “Tomorrow I will be Perfect”.   The book was released in 1986, four years before he could stop worrying about tomorrow.

On September 2nd, 1990, Stieb took to the mound against the Cleveland Indians.  After walking batters in the first and second innings, there was not much to suggest what was about to occur.  At 16-5, he was having another fine season but had not flirted with a no-hitter as he had so often the previous two years.

After the second inning, Stieb went on a run, retiring 15 straight before another walk in the 8th inning.  Three quick fly outs and the Jays went to the bottom of the ninth with a 2-0 lead.  The possible no-hitter still intact.

Stieb quickly got the first two batters of the 9th inning out before surrendering a walk to Alex Cole. Cole then stole second base as Stieb went about trying to get out Jerry Browne.  Browne hit a firm line drive to right field.  Junior Felix took a few quick steps, settled under it and made the catch to secure the out.

Game Played on Sunday, September 2, 1990 (D) at Cleveland Stadium

TOR A    0  0  0    1  1  0    0  0  1  -   3  8  0
CLE A    0  0  0    0  0  0    0  0  0  -   0  0  1
Toronto Blue Jays            IP     H   R  ER  BB  SO  HR BFP
Stieb W(17-5)                 9     0   0   0   4   9   0  29

Cleveland Indians            IP     H   R  ER  BB  SO  HR BFP
Black L(10-9)                 7     5   2   2   1   5   1  27
Orosco                        1     2   1   1   0   1   1   4
Olin                          1     1   0   0   0   0   0   4
Totals                        9     8   3   3   1   6   2  35
INDIANS 1ST: Cole walked; Cole was caught stealing second
(catcher to shortstop); Browne popped to first; D. James
grounded out (shortstop to first); 0 R, 0 H, 0 E, 0 LOB.  Blue
Jays 0, Indians 0.

INDIANS 2ND: Phelps popped to shortstop; Jacoby flied to left;
Baerga walked; Baerga was caught stealing second (catcher to
second); 0 R, 0 H, 0 E, 0 LOB.  Blue Jays 0, Indians 0.

INDIANS 3RD: Snyder struck out; Brookens was called out on
strikes; Skinner struck out; 0 R, 0 H, 0 E, 0 LOB.  Blue Jays 0,
Indians 0.

INDIANS 4TH: Cole grounded out (second to first); Browne popped
to shortstop; D. James struck out; 0 R, 0 H, 0 E, 0 LOB.  Blue
Jays 1, Indians 0.

INDIANS 5TH: Phelps grounded out (pitcher to first); Jacoby
struck out; Baerga grounded out (pitcher to first); 0 R, 0 H, 0
E, 0 LOB.  Blue Jays 2, Indians 0.

INDIANS 6TH: Snyder struck out; Brookens struck out; Skinner
struck out; 0 R, 0 H, 0 E, 0 LOB.  Blue Jays 2, Indians 0.

INDIANS 7TH: Cole grounded out (shortstop to first); Browne
grounded out (second to first); D. James flied to center; 0 R, 0
H, 0 E, 0 LOB.  Blue Jays 2, Indians 0.

INDIANS 8TH: Phelps walked; Jacoby flied to center; Baerga flied
to left; Snyder flied to left; 0 R, 0 H, 0 E, 1 LOB.  Blue Jays
2, Indians 0.

INDIANS 9TH: C. JAMES BATTED FOR BROOKENS; C. James flied to
left; MALDONADO BATTED FOR SKINNER; Maldonado struck out; Cole
walked; Cole advanced to second because of defensive
indifference [Cole to second]; Browne lined to right; 0 R, 0 H,
0 E, 1 LOB.  Blue Jays 3, Indians 0.

Thinking back, I only have a handful of “do you remember where you were” moments.  I am proud to include the moment when Dave Stieb got the final out on September 2nd 1990.  I was in Regina, visiting my grandmother with my family.  I watched the game in family room, alone if I remember correctly.  I was convinced that the Indians would get a hit if anyone else came down and joined me.  The odds are that we would not have jinxed it, but I was not going to take any chances given Stieb’s tortured history.

The next chapter of Dave Stieb’s story was surprising and sad.  It was almost as though the goal was achieved and the tank was empty.  Stieb only made 9 starts in 1991 before shoulder and back issues put him on the disabled list for the rest of the season.   He made it back for 1992, starting 14 games and pitching 7 games in relief.

His last start occurred on August 8th against Detroit.  He lasted three innings, giving up five hits and five runs.  He ended the season on the disabled list and did not participate in the post-season in which the Jays won their first World Series title.

He moved on to the Chicago White Sox in 1993, making four starts in late April and May before retiring due to back pain.  His career ended after a valiant comeback at age 40 with the Blue Jays in 1998.  Used primarily in relief, Stieb did make three starts.   I do not think it was a coincidence that his last big league start was against the Cleveland Indians on September 15th.

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7 Comments

Filed under Baseball

7 responses to “Revisiting Dave Stieb’s Chase for Perfection

  1. Peter Lowe

    I have two ticket stubs to the no hitter in Cleveland for sale.

    • Peter, That is pretty cool. I don’t think personally I am interested, though I am still trying to chase down a bobble head from last year. Couldn’t seem to find someone willing to go to the post office and send it to Calgary.

    • Robby

      Peter – are you still selling those ticket stubs? I would be interested in purchasing one of them. Please let me know if you are still selling.

      • Peter Lowe

        Hi Robby, I’m still interested in selling. Trouble is the tickets are back home in Canada and I’m in Arizona until April. If you’re in a hurry sorry I can’t help.

      • Robby

        Hey Peter,

        I would still be interested in buying in April. My email is Rfelds@umich.edu. If you shoot me an email, I would be happy to talk. Thank you!

  2. adam

    awesome post jj. is that your card?

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