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No-hitters lost in the ninth: The Cubs’ Frank Castillo, September 25, 1995

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One out to go... one strike to go...

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The 1995 Cubs were a curious bunch. New manager Jim Riggleman had them in first place through most of May, then a 9-20 June seemingly took them out of contention.

They were 65-68 and five games out of the wild card spot in the 144-game season when they began an 11-game season-ending homestand against the Pirates, Cardinals and Astros September 21. They lost the first game of a four-game set to Pittsburgh, then took the final three and were thus one game under .500 at 68-69 and 4½ games out of the then-single wild card spot when they opened the series against the Cardinals on a Monday evening, September 25.

It was a pleasant 66-degree night and the Cubs immediately took a 4-0 first-inning lead on RBI singles by Sammy Sosa, Luis Gonzalez and Matt Franco and a wild pitch.

And then Frank Castillo began mowing down Cardinals. He had issued a two-out walk in the top of the first, then 17 straight St. Louis batters went down before another walk with one out in the seventh. By that time the Cubs had scored three more runs and led 7-0 going into the eighth. Castillo retired the side in order in that inning, and the crowd buzzed with no-hit anticipation going into the ninth.

Terry “Not The Quarterback or Fox-TV Commentator” Bradshaw struck out to lead off the ninth. Then Castillo got Mark Sweeney to strike out swinging, his 13th K of the evening.

One out to go.

Castillo ran the count to 2-2 on Bernard Gilkey. One STRIKE to go.

The Tribune’s Paul Sullivan picks up the story.

Gilkey lined a high fastball to right in front of Sammy Sosa to spoil the no-hit bid.

Gilkey wound up with a triple when the ball rolled past Sosa to the wall, leaving Castillo with a magnificent one-hit effort that earned several standing ovations.

I wish we had video of this — I well remember Sosa nearly making a spectacular catch which would have gone down in MLB history as one of the best ever to end a no-hitter.

But he didn’t, and the Cardinals had a hit. Castillo wrapped up the night by getting Tripp Cromer to fly to Sosa and the Cubs had a one-hit, 7-0 win.

The victory was the fourth of what eventually became an eight-game winning streak, the Cubs’ longest of 1995. The last two of those eight were won in extra innings against the Astros, who the Cubs would also face for the final two games of the season. The Dodgers had also been winning in the final week and they took over first place in the NL West. Thus with two games to go, the wild-card standings read:

Rockies 75-67
Astros 74-68
Cubs 73-69

If the Cubs could beat the Astros twice more and the Rockies lose a pair to the Giants, those teams would have wound up tied for the wild card. Unfortunately, the results were exactly the reverse: The Rockies took two from the Giants and the Astros beat the Cubs twice, giving the wild card to Colorado.

This game was played exactly 29 years, to the day, after the Dodgers broke up Ken Holtzman’s no-hitter at Wrigley, September 25, 1966.

Fun fact: This was the second year of the three-division setup in MLB, and the first with a wild card in the postseason (since the 1994 postseason had been cancelled by a strike). If the National League had been in the old two-division East and West configuration in 1995, the Cubs’ 73-71 record would have won the old NL East — they were the only old Eastern Division team with a winning record that year. (Don’t believe me? Go look it up.)

Frank Castillo was traded to the Rockies in 1997 for no one you’ve ever heard of, and eventually also pitched for the Tigers, Blue Jays, Red Sox and Marlins. He died in a boating accident in Arizona in 2013, aged just 44.

Here is Mike Bojanowski’s scorecard from this game (click here for a larger version).