Francisco Cordova pitched nine hitless innings but still didn’t win the second best-pitched game in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ 110-year history. Unlike Harvey Haddix 38 years ago, he didn’t lose.
Cordova, the son of a former Mexican League pitching star but a starter himself for less than a year, and Ricardo Rincon combined on a 10-inning no-hitter before Mark Smith won it with a dramatic three-run homer as the Pirates defeated the Houston Astros 3-0 Saturday night.
The only better performance in Pirates history was by Haddix, who pitched 12 perfect innings against Milwaukee on May 26, 1959, before losing on Joe Adcock’s homer in the 13th - not an official no-hitter, but still considered the greatest game ever pitched in the majors.
“We don’t know anything about (Haddix),” said Cordova, who, like Rincon, speaks no English.
Cordova was interviewed through interpreter Esteban Loaiza, the Pirates’ other Mexican-born starter. “We’re happy what we’ve done, but it was more important for us to win. Winning was even greater than throwing a no-hitter.”
But the Pirates didn’t win it until Smith, a spring training pickup in a unnoticed trade, homered off Astros closer John Hudek, giving Pittsburgh its first run after being shut out for the first 27-2/3 innings of the series. Houston won the first two games by a combined 17-0.
“It’s funny, but I got all fired up sitting on the bench in the ninth inning, thinking how great it would be to win the game with a homer,” said Smith, acquired from San Diego in a four-player trade during the final week of March. “It’s the greatest feeling you could ever have.”
Cordova and Rincon, close friends and former Mexican League teammates, couldn’t have picked a more opportune night to pitch the third no-hitter in Pittsburgh by a Pirates pitcher. The crowd of 44,119, lured by a Jackie Robinson tribute and fireworks show, was the Pirates’ first non-opening day sellout since June 5, 1977.
The victory also allowed the Pirates to tie Houston for first place in the N.L. Central.
The crowd nearly lifted 27-year-old Three Rivers Stadium off its foundation after Smith’s tape-measure drive, stomping and cheering throughout the 15-minute break between the end of the game and the fireworks show. As the scoreboard showed replay after replay, Smith was nearly carried off the field by his back-pounding, high-fiving teammates.
“How can you describe that?” Smith said. “Impossible. What a feeling. What a memory.”
Cordova will not receive individual credit for his nine no-hit innings, but will be recognized along with Rincon (3-4) for the eighth combined no-hitter in history.
The big crowd nursed Cordova through his nine no-hit innings, exploding after each of his 10 strikeouts and tensing up any time the Astros put the ball in play, which was infrequently.
Houston has managed two hits in 18 innings against Cordova this season - he beat them 6-0 on a two-hitter June 23 in the Astrodome - and three in 23 innings in his three career starts against them.
Cordova was lifted after throwing 121 pitches in nine innings, and Rincon came on for a hitless 10th inning. They combined for 11 strikeouts, three walks and a hit batter.
“You never want to take a guy out during a no-hitter, but it wasn’t a hard decision for me,” Pirates manager Gene Lamont said. “He’d thrown a few too many pitches, and you didn’t want him getting up there around the 140-pitch count.”
It was the first combined no-hitter since Atlanta’s Kent Mercker, Mark Wohlers and Alejandro Pena did it against San Diego on Sept. 11, 1991.
The other Pirates’ no-hitters in Pittsburgh were by John Candelaria against Los Angeles on Aug. 8, 1976, and Nicholas Maddox against Brooklyn on Sept. 20, 1907.
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