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No-hitters lost in the ninth: The Cubs break up Juan Marichal’s no-hit bid, April 16, 1971

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It happened on a rainy night in San Francisco.

Photo by Hy Peskin/Getty Images

Famed for his windup that included a high leg kick (shown above), Juan Marichal was one of the best pitchers in baseball through the 1960s.

By 1971 he was past his peak and coming off a mediocre 1970 season, but in his third start of the ‘71 season — coming off allowing only two total runs in 18 innings in his first two outings — he stymied the Cubs, who were off to a sluggish start that year.

Per George Langford’s Tribune recap, there was a “blowing, misty rain” throughout this game which prompted two rain delays in front of a small crowd of 8,133. The boxscore indicates a game time temperature of 49, a raw, cold evening.

The Giants didn’t have any trouble hitting Fergie Jenkins that night, despite the lousy weather. Jenkins departed before the third inning ended having allowed five runs, including homers to George Foster and Dick Dietz.

The Cubs, meanwhile, couldn’t do anything with Marichal. A third-inning leadoff walk to journeyman outfielder Jose Ortiz (who played only 36 games for the ‘71 Cubs) produced the only baserunner for them through eight innings, while the Giants extended their lead to 9-0 off reliever Bob Miller.

Ken Rudolph, the Cubs’ backup catcher, was the leadoff hitter in the ninth. From Langford’s recap:

Rudolph, who had gone hitless this season in 17 at bats, rapped a shot toward rookie Third Baseman Bob Heise leading off the ninth. The ball skipped off the AstroTurf and over his glove. After several long, anxious moments, the play was ruled a bad hop single by Official Scorer Jack Hanley.

Without video (the Cubs and WGN-TV didn’t televise weeknight West Coast games until 1974) we can’t know, 50+ years later, how close that ball came to being handled by Heise. Official scorers now will tell you that they generally want to have the first hit in a situation like that be a clean one; in modern baseball that might have been ruled an error. (Also, I’m not sure why Langford wrote that Heise was a “rookie”; he’d played parts of three seasons for the Mets from 1967-69 and 67 games for the Giants in 1970.)

Anyway, that scorer’s decision became moot one batter later:

Jim Hickman, pinch-hitting for Pitcher Bob Miller, immediately clarified the issue by rifling a line drive single to left. It was also Hickman’s first hit of the season in 10 at bats.

That was it for the Cubs, but again they had broken up a no-no in the ninth. The Giants won the game 9-0. It would have been Marichal’s second, as he had thrown one in 1963. Jenkins recovered from that bad outing to have the best year of his career, winning the NL Cy Young Award. The Cubs could not overcome a 12-17 start and finished third, 14 games out of first place. The Giants, meanwhile, won the NL West before losing to the Pirates in the NLCS.

One last stylistic note: The capitalization of “Third Baseman” and “Pitcher” in the Tribune quotes is from the original. The Tribune retained many style oddities like this for 20 years after longtime publisher Robert McCormick, who had originated them, died in 1955.