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No-hitters lost in the ninth: The Cubs’ Jamie Moyer, April 13, 1987

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Not the sort of pitcher you’d think would have a chance at immortality, but he almost got there.

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I had intended to write this series in chronological order, oldest to most recent, and I thought I’d done so until a commenter in one of the articles (and I apologize, I cannot find that as I write this) pointed out that this one hadn’t appeared when it should have.

Somehow, I missed this one when gathering the information from this list of no-hitters lost in the ninth inning in the expansion era (since 1961). Not wanting to slight Jamie Moyer, here’s the story of the one that almost made him famous (not that he didn’t eventually gain fame in other ways).

Moyer was the Cubs’ sixth-round draft pick in 1984, the draft that also produced Greg Maddux in Round 2. He’d zoomed through the Cubs system, making just 43 minor-league starts before his MLB debut June 16, 1986. He made 16 starts for the Cubs that year. Some were good, but he also allowed five or more runs seven times and posted a 5.05 ERA.

April 13, 1987 was his first start of that year (he’d made one two-batter relief appearance on Opening Day). And truth be told, it wasn’t that great an outing, either. While Moyer went through the first eight innings not allowing a hit, he issued walks in the first, second, third, fourth and seventh, five in all. The Phillies, though, could not score and the Cubs built a 5-0 lead thanks in part to home runs by Andre Dawson and Bob Dernier.

Bottom of the ninth, still 5-0, no-hit bid intact. Moyer couldn’t believe it, quoted in Fred Mitchell’s recap in the Tribune:

“I walked out to the mound in the ninth inning, and it didn’t seem real,” said Moyer. “I looked up and asked myself, ‘Is this really happening to me?’”

Well, it wasn’t, as you already know by this game’s inclusion in this series. Juan Samuel led off the ninth. Per Mitchell, Moyer threw Samuel a changeup and he hit a soft single to center to break up the no-hit bid.

Moyer then walked Von Hayes, his sixth free pass of the evening. At this point (if not right after the hit) most modern managers would have taken Moyer out, but Gene “Stick” Michael let Moyer face Mike Schmidt. Schmidt singled in a run. Then Michael brought in Lee Smith, who allowed another RBI single to Lance Parrish before retiring the next three hitters for a 5-2 Cubs win.

The 1987 Cubs were in first place much of May, helped out by Dawson’s eventual MVP season and a great year from Rick Sutcliffe, who should have won his second Cy Young Award (the selection of Steve Bedrosian was one of the worst Cy Young choices ever). A 12-17 June and 12-13 July dumped the Cubs out of contention and Michael resigned as manager in early September.

Moyer, meanwhile, posted another ERA over 5 (5.10) in 1987 but had a better year in 1988 (3.4 bWAR). That got him and Rafael Palmeiro traded to the Rangers before the 1989 season in the Mitch Williams deal. The Cubs probably don’t win the NL East in ‘89 without Williams, but in the long run that was not a good trade.

The Rangers wound up releasing Moyer after the 1990 season. He pitched in 1991 for the Cardinals, who also let him go at the end of the year. Larry Himes, then Cubs GM, signed Moyer, then 29, to a minor-league deal with a non-roster invitation to spring training in 1992. At the end of spring camp Himes called Moyer into his office and told him that while he wouldn’t make the team, that there was a coaching position in the Cubs system available for him.

Moyer’s reply: “I think I can still pitch.”

Twenty years, three Top 6 Cy Young finishes and one World Series ring (2008 Phillies, for whom he posted 2.8 bWAR at age 45) later, Moyer was still pitching for the 2012 Rockies. His 50.0 career bWAR make him a borderline Hall of Famer, or at least a member of the Hall of Very Good.

Himes should have kept Moyer around.