The True Story of an Itinerant Life in Baseball
by Terry Leach
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The one hitter I did have trouble with that night, and this I’ll never forget, was Luis Aguayo. This guy was a backup second baseman who’d had maybe fifty at-bats all season. He came up with one out in the fifth and bounced a triple in between the outfielders. That artificial turf will kill you. I got the next two guys out, stranded Aguayo there at third base, and did not give up another hit the rest of the way.
There’s one particular pitch I’ll always remember from that game, because it was a pitch I’d never thrown before and have never thrown since. It was a slider I threw to Ozzie Virgil, who was the Phils’ catcher that night. Now Ozzie had a little bit of a closed stance, where he’d have his left foot planted in closer to the plate than his right. Well, I threw him this amazing slider, which was about half an accident I guess. That pitch kind of slipped out of my hand, and it actually started out behind him. Ozzie saw that and panicked a little. He didn’t know where to go, so I guess he just basically folded up. But then all of a sudden the ball broke so sharply that Ron Hodges actually ended up catching it after it came between Ozzie’s legs. That ball was heading in behind his legs, then literally broke from behind him, went right through his legs, like it was going through a wicket, and ended up in the catcher’s glove. I think that pitch scared Ozzie Virgil about halfway to death. And you know it had me worried a little bit too, for just a moment. That was one fine breaking slider, right there -- sticks out in my mind to this day as one pitch I will always remember, over a whole lot of uglier pitches I’ve thrown in my life.
Through nine innings I had Philadelphia shut out, but we hadn’t scored either. John Denny was pitching for the Phils, and he’d given up only one hit, too. Then in the top of the tenth, Denny came out of the game and we scratched up a run off the guy who replaced him. I was still out there pitching in the bottom of the tenth. To be truthful, I was about ready to collapse. I could hardly breathe. I was bent over resting on my knees between pitches. I was flat worn out, but I sure didn’t want to surrender the baseball. I was getting everyone out. I just wanted to finish. I wanted that shutout. I could taste it now, it was that close.
I walked a guy to start the tenth. Aguayo, getting in my hair again. When I went 3-1 on the next batter, I could see our manager, George Bamberger, put one foot up on the dugout step. Another walk and I’d be gone. I came back and got a ground-out, then a soft liner to second base. I got that last out on my last drop of adrenalin. Who hit that little liner -- Gary Maddox again? All I remember is seeing Brian Giles at second base close his glove around that third out.
Now, no Mets pitcher has ever pitched a no-hitter, before or since. The last time anybody had pitched even a one-hitter for them was Tom Seaver, five years before. But since I’d gone that extra inning, my ten-inning 1-0 one-hit shutout in that game counted as a team record for low-hit pitching. That record still stands today. It’ll be on the books until some Met pitcher of the twenty-first century finally throws a no-no.
Just before the game, when they’d told me I was going to be starting, I’d phoned up my mom and dad -- and then I talked to them afterwards, and we shared the high I got from that game. A lot of people in the New York organization hadn’t believed I was capable of pitching that well, I know. But down home in Alabama I had people who’d never stopped backing me, and they were really pleased by this. I had friends who’d been my teammates and coaches down there tell me later that they’d been out driving the morning after the game, stopped at McDonald’s, got a cup of coffee, bought a paper and hit on that box score. "This has got to be a misprint!" they were saying. A lot of zeroes and just one hit, no runs, ten innings -- must be some kind of mistake here! Well, it wasn’t a misprint. My ten-inning one-hit game was an actual fact. Those people were real happy for me. They just loved what I’d done. They could appreciate what I’d been through, and where I’d got. I’d sailed through that sink-or-swim game and still had my head above water.
Even with that great last game of ’82, I ended up down in Norfolk with the Tidewater Triple-A club in the spring of ’83. The Mets had brought me back that spring on the strength of my one-hitter, but now they turned around and cut me again. It was the same old thing, the numbers game. Other people were costing them more money and had to be kept. I was no-money-invested, minimum wage, it wasn’t going to cost them very much to just hold on to me down at Triple-A as insurance. I was starting to get familiar with that baseball business logic.
Copyright © 2000 by Terry Leach and Tom Clark. Excerpted with permission. Book cover designed by Carolina de Bartolo.