Watching footage from 1980s baseball games feels like witnessing some relic from baseball’s distant past. The basic details and rules of America’s Pastime are there, but the aesthetics just feel remarkably different. Like 70s porn, the key nuances – the mustaches, the stances, the positioning, the ball girls that look like Van Halen groupies – combine to distinguish it in greatness even amidst much scaled down production values (relative to today’s broadcasts). Cherry-pick any game uploaded to YouTube and it becomes apparent. If nothing else, this old archive footage can help us power through the remaining weeks of the long, cold winter leading up to spring training.
On April 15, 1987, southpaw Juan Nieves became the first Puerto Rican player to pitch a no-hitter, leading the Milwaukee Brewers to a 7-0 victory over the Baltimore Orioles in what was then a showdown between two American League East ball clubs. Nieves accomplished the feat only about a year after his major league debut.
Nieves became Boston’s pitching coach in 2013 and there are other interesting Red Sox angles to this one as well. Milwaukee started former Red Sox Cecil Cooper at DH while former third base coach Dale Sveum manned shortstop. Meanwhile, Baltimore’s lineup included second baseman Rick Burleson (playing in his final season) and a center fielder named Fred Lynn. The Orioles also had Ray Knight at third base, fresh off his 1986 World Series MVP performance the prior fall and the karmic justice of a killer case of kidney stones during spring training.
Jim Paschke and Mike Hegan from WBTV, the Milwaukee Brewers’ television network, provide the call, never once mentioning the no-hitter until the final out is in Robin Yount’s glove.
00:10: Milwaukee’s lineup.
00.30: Baltimore’s defense.
1:56: Orioles starter Mike Flanagan starts off the game in front of a not-so-packed Memorial Stadium crowd (paid attendance was listed at about 11,400) that isn’t all that anxious to sit through this drab and rainy April affair.
Somewhat reminiscent of the typical turnout in the home plate box seats at New New Yankee Stadium…
8:47: Juan Nieves, who had an inauspicious start to the 1987 season and had reportedly “lost his way” during a tumultuous 1986 rookie season, takes the hill after the Brewers go down in order in the top of the first.
12:20: Nieves gets No. 2 hitter Rick Burleson to chase a 12-to-6 breaking ball for his first strikeout of the game. The pitch was characterized by the commentators as a “slurve” but was later explained as likely a hybrid of a split-finger and a knuckleball.
12:43: Cal Ripken, a mere 29% through his 2,632 consecutive games played streak as of this particular AB. He would pop out to end the inning.
13:40: Special graphics for Brewer Baseball ‘87. Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer” is the choice for the outro music, obviously.
13:59: Cecil Cooper with some cool specs that would make many modern hipsters drool all over their flannel.
21:22: Jim Paciorek makes a diving catch in left field to rob Eddie Murray of a single in the bottom of the 2nd inning.
23:33: What is Ray Knight grinning about? What a rat bastard…Knight would wind up drawing a walk from Nieves.
37:34: A check on other AL scores has Boston beating Texas, 5-4, at Fenway Park (Dwight Evans hit a homer and a triple and Wes Gardner saved Bruce Hurst’s bacon by pitching three innings out of the pen, striking out seven).
40:23: Somehow Ken Gerhart hooks a pitch right down Main St. so high and far down the left-field line that it catches a jetstream and blows foul. Based on the camera track and where the crowd is scurrying in the bleachers, it’s hard to figure how this ball could have hooked far enough left to be foul unless it immediately changed path in mid-air before it landed in the seats. The third base umpire was Derryl Cousins. Nieves would eventually walk Gerhart before striking out Burleson to end the 3rd inning.
46:50: Lucky No. 7 Dale Sveum puts the Brewers on the board by pulling a lazy fly ball that manages to drift just over the wall next to the left-field foul pole. It landed nowhere near as high as Gerhart’s foul ball shown above…For your amusement, here he is rounding third base.
54:44: In the 4th, Ripken takes a pitch well inside and below the knees on a hard line down the third-base line that looks like a hit as it leaves the meat of the bat. But Paul Molitor barely even needed to move to make the play. Batted ball luck: a must-have during virtually any no-hitter. (As it would turn out, this game would serve as a chief case in point in regards to the powers and influence of BABIP in small samples.)
1:03:09: As Nieves deals to Knight to lead off the 5th inning, the commentators dance around any discussion of a no-hitter, instead filling the void with safer ground: gushing over Bo Jackson’s evening against Kansas City the night before. Bo famously scored a touchdown and kicked the extra point in the game.
1:07:11: Cal Ripken, Sr. looks like he’d be a fun dude to share a bottle of bourbon with.
1:08:07: Another close call for Nieves as John Shelby hits one that barely lands foul down the left-field line. It would have been a sure double had it landed fair as Paciorek was shaded toward left-center.
The platform in left where the ball landed, acting as the roof to the groundskeeper’s tool shed.
1:10:31: Shelby goes down swinging for Nieves’ fourth strikeout on a pretty hittable pitch up in the zone.
1:11:00: Molitor would snare the final out on the next pitch to get Juan through five.
1:20:11: Nieves fools Gerhart into swinging at this breaking ball to strike out leading off the 6th. A flyout to center and a flyout to right would do it for the inning.
The Brewers’ two-run 7th inning features a leadoff double, a bunt basehit and another double along with a Gerhart error in left. A woman named Mary in Madison won a prize pack thanks to the runs being scored during the designated “Rally Inning.”
1:37:35: Nieves walks Murray on four straight pitches, prompting a visit at the mound by the pitching coach.
1:41:39: It’s Dale Sveum who takes over yet again, first initiating a 6-4-3 double-play on a ball hit by Lynn and then catching this can of corn for the final out in the 7th.
1:46:08: The Brewers extend their lead to 6-0 in the top of the 8th with a three-run homer by Greg Brock.
1:52:45: In the 8th, Nieves gets a first-pitch flyout and then sets up the old inside fastball – outside fastball trick on Shelby swinging for the second out. Shelby accounted for three of Juan’s seven total strikeouts in the game.
1:53:47: Like the Gerhart foul earlier, the wind saves the day once again as Floyd Rayford gets out in front of a pitch and pulls it just in front of the left-field foul pole. It had the distance as it bounced off the upper deck facade in the corner.
1:55:16: Nieves proceeds to get Rayford to chase a 2-2 outside fastball that puts him just three outs away.
2:01:29: Milwaukee hitters swing early in the count in the top of the 9th in an effort to get Nieves back on the mount as quickly as possible. The Brewers still manage to tack on a run thanks to a Braggs home run off Dave Schmidt. Minutes later, Nieves takes the mound with a 7-0 lead in the 9th.
2:02:30: Gerhart swings at the first pitch and grounds out to third, bringing up Burleson. Nieves doesn’t look worried.
2:02:43: Burleson hits a line drive to third, also on the first pitch, and Molitor again fields it no problem. It is the third line drive of the game hit right at him. Molitor gets extra points for grabbing this as a short-hopper here may have spelled trouble.
2:05:02: Cal Ripken draws the fifth walk of Nieves’ night, bringing up Eddie Murray, who lifts the first pitch to left-center field. And Robin Yount makes the play of the night, just laying out to clinch the no-no.
2:06:02: Nieves celebrates as he finishes the first no-hitter in Brewers history.
Overall, Nieves exhibited much guile and instinct with what was generally a mediocre repertoire. Game score-wise, Nieves was hardly dominant – his seven strikeouts were largely offset by five walks. However, this wasn’t exactly Phil Humber no-hitting the lowly Seattle Mariners lineup a couple of years ago. Baltimore’s offense featured some firepower, namely Ripken and Murray. But they were also fairly free-swinging in this game and Nieves took advantage by working around the better hitters and taking advantage of mismatches (hello, Mark Shelby).
CLASSIC RED SOX SCREEN GRAB SERIES:
1975 World Series, Game 6
1986 ALCS, Game 6
1990 ALCS, Game 1
1999 ALDS, Game 5
1999 ALCS, Game 3