First baseman Lee Thomas, with two down in the ninth, dug his pitcher’s low throw out of the dirt, and the pitcher -- Dave Morehead of the Red Sox -- rode into baseball history with a no-hit game. His victims were the Cleveland Indians. Morehead beat them 2-0.
By one pitch -- a wide one on a 3-and-2 count in the second inning to Rocky Colavito -- Morehead missed pitching the 10th perfect game ever hurled in the majors.
Colavito, who opened the second inning with his walk, was the only Cleveland player to reach base. And he remained on first while Morehead struck out the side.
Limited to one single by Luis Tiant until there were two out in the sixth, the Red Sox scored then on Jim Gosger’s infield single and a triple by Dalton Jones, made it 2-0 in the seventh when Thomas lofted a homer, his 20th, into the grandstand in right field.
Tension mounted as Morehead, retiring batter and batter, grew closer to achieving a pitcher’s dream.
“Solly Hemus started yelling to me about the no-hitter during the sixth inning,” Morehead recalled. Hemus is the third base coach of the Indians.
On the Red Sox bench, as Morehead sat there between innings, no remark about the possible no-hitter was made.
With two out in the eighth, just after Morehead fanned Chuck Hinton -- home run hero of Wednesday night’s game -- for his eighth strikeout, Manager Birdie Tebbetts of the Indians pulled out all the stops. This was a bid, not so much to snap the no-hitter, but for victory.
Tebbetts’ first pinch-hitter was a tall lefty, Bill Davis, and he lined to Jim Gosger in center. That ended the eighth.
Leading off in the ninth, Larry Brown, a right-handed batter, hit for catcher Duke Sims. Morehead’s first pitch was a ball. On the second pitch, Brown hit a liner -- about four-fifths speed -- that shortstop Ed Bressoud caught with both hands a foot, and a half over his head. One down.
Next, battling for Tiant, came Lou Clinton, former Red Sox player who Wednesday night hit a pinch-homer to tie the score.
Again the first pitch was a ball. On the second pitch, Clinton flied to center fielder Gosger. There were two away.
One batter stood between Morehead and a no-hit game.
It was the turn of Dick Howser, the No. 1 man in the Indian batting order. But Manager Tebbetts sent Vic Davalillo -- lefthanded hitter, fast as a whippet -- to hit for Howser.
Catcher Bob Tillman and Ed Bressoud walked to the mound and conferred with Morehead.
Despite the fact that Davalillo is a lefthanded hitter, Bressoud said, “He’s a punch hitter. I’ll move a bit toward the hole.” They resumed their positions and, to compensate for Bressoud’s move toward the left, second baseman Dalton Jones shifted a bit toward second base.
A scant crowd of 2,370 -- 1,247 paid, 104 Ladies Day spectators, 1,019 guests -- leaned forward. Morehead’s first pitch was a fastball steaming, over the top of Davalillo’s letters. He took it. Strike one. The second pitch also was a fastball, likewise steaming, just under the letters. Again Davalillo took it. Strike out. Morehead was one pitch from a no-hit triumph.
Manager Tebbetts came out of the Cleveland dugout, called “Time,” and called Davalillo from the batter’s box. Fifteen feet away from the box, they conferred.
“Don’t TAKE anything close,” Tebbetts told him.
Morehead’s next pitch was a curve. It broke low -- just under Davalillo’s knees. Both Morehead and Davalillo afterward agreed the pitch was low, under the strike zone. But Davalillo didn’t dare take it.
He swung and the ball on one hop bounded to Morehead. It was a foot or two to his third base side.
“I wanted to pick it up and run over to first base,” said Morehead, “but I started (toward first base) too fast.”
The ball bounded off the heel of his glove, and dropped on the ground on his third base side. And Davalillo, one of the fastest base-runners in baseball, was streaking toward first base.
“Out of the corner of my eye,” said Davalillo, “I saw Morehead drop it. ‘I’ll make it,’ I said to myself.”
Morehead -- his no-hitter at stake because he had dropped a normally easy bounder -- leaped for the ball, grabbed it and fired to first base.
His throw was low … in the dirt.
Morehead, down through the years, can thank his lucky stars the Red Sox last Winter traded Dick Stuart. He even can be a bit happy that his California crony, Tony Horton, wasn’t playing.
The first baseman was Lee Thomas.
With Davalillo 20 inches -- perhaps -- from first base, Thomas dig the ball out of the dirt.
From the field, from the dugout, Red Sox players poured out and surrounded Morehead.
Four years out of Hoover High School in San Diego, without a single winning season in the majors, and only one -- by a one-game margin -- in the minors, he had pitched a no-hit game.
Exactly two hours before, he had started the game with a poor record of nine victories and 16 defeats,
What had happened?
“I cut down on my walks,” said Morehead.
One month ago, on advice of pitching coach Mace Brown, Morehead adopted a more COMPACT delivery. He stopped reaching backward so far on his windup. He stopped leaning backward so far during his windup.
“COMPACTNESS of delivery” made the difference.
On Aug. 31, he shut out the Senators with three hits for six innings, was relieved by Dick Radatz who completed the shutout.
Sept. 4, Morehead went all the way to pitch a three-hitter and beat the Yankees, 1-0.
Last week he got thumped by Minnesota.
And Thursday, before a crowd that included his wife -- his schoolboy sweetheart, Patricia More -- he pitched a no-hit game.
Four Junes ago, the Red Sox -- equaling Kansas City’s bid -- offered him a bonus of $85,000 to join them.
He accepted the offer, and his great promise -- marred perhaps by Red Sox efforts to change him in 1964 -- finally is being realized.
And his 22d birthday was only a week ago Sunday.