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In 1993, it had been more than 20 years since the last Cubs no-hitter. In just the year's second game, a new Cub came close to breaking that drought.
When Greg Maddux was allowed to leave via free agency after the 1992 season, the Cubs used the money earmarked for him to sign two pitchers: closer Randy Myers and starter Jose Guzman. Or, at least that's the story GM Larry Himes told when Maddux went back to Himes and Tribune Co. execs saying he wanted to after all -- Himes claimed the money was already spent.
Whether by serendipity or just coincidence (likely coincidence, as schedules were completed long before Maddux signed with the Braves), the Braves were to be the Cubs' Opening Series opponent at Wrigley Field in 1993. Maddux, as the star free agent, got the Opening Day start, and just as he had in his previous start at Wrigley September 30, 1992, gave up no runs to his opponent. This time, the opponent was the Cubs; Maddux wound up two outs short of another shutout. Atlanta manager Bobby Cox had to call on closer Mike Stanton after Maddux allowed two baserunners in the bottom of the ninth. The Braves won 1-0, but this isn't the story of that game.
The next afternoon, Guzman, presumably Maddux's "replacement" in the rotation, faced Atlanta's John Smoltz. It was a cold, though bright and sunny day, and Guzman mowed down Braves in each inning, eventually retiring the first 21 in order.
Could it be? It had been more than 20 years since the last Cubs no-hitter -- and Milt Pappas had likely been cheated out of a perfect game by plate umpire Bruce Froemming. Would Guzman be the guy to break this streak? The game was as close as the day before; going into the eighth the Cubs led 1-0 on a Mark Grace second-inning RBI double.
Alas, no perfecto. Alan Solomon had the details in the Tribune:
Guzman, tiring a little, lost the perfect game in the eighth when he walked Terry Pendleton on a 3-2 pitch. Deion Sanders ran for Pendleton and was called out trying to steal. It was an interesting call, and it changed the inning. "I thought Deion was safe, easy," said Atlanta manager Bobby Cox. "The throw, the slide, everything-no contest." "The umpire called him out," said Sanchez, "so he must have been out." Justice, the next hitter, walked on another 3-2 pitch. When Guzman fell behind Sid Bream 2-O, catcher Rick Wilkins went to the mound. Bream bounced the very next pitch to Grace. Olson flied softly to Willie Wilson in center, and Guzman was three outs away.
Three outs away. Guzman retired Mark Lemke on a ground out on the first pitch. The next hitter, the previous year's playoff hero Francisco Cabrera, took ball one, then hit a popup to third baseman Steve Buechele.
One out to go. Solomon, again, from the Tribune:
Otis Nixon broke up the no-no with two outs in the ninth on a line-drive, no-doubt single to left. It came on an O-1 fastball down the middle. "I tried not to throw a fastball down the middle the whole game," said Guzman, who succeeded for most of the nippy afternoon. "That's part of the game. I made some other pitches down the middle, and we made good plays."
Guzman, rattled a bit, balked Nixon to second, but then got Jeff Blauser on a popup to Sanchez and had a complete-game, one-hit, 1-0 shutout -- the only shutout he threw as a Cub, and his last in the big leagues. It was the seventh Cub one-hitter since the Pappas no-no and the second of those (after Chuck Rainey's in 1983) to get down to the final out, only to be thwarted.
The rest of Guzman's season was just okay, as was the Cubs'. Guzman won 12 games, but finished with a 4.34 ERA, good for an ERA+ of 91; meanwhile, Maddux, meanwhile, won another Cy Young Award in Atlanta. The Cubs never really contended, although their 84-78 finish was their first winning season that wasn't a postseason year since 1972.