It was like most of the pitches he’d thrown all afternoon, a good pitch but not a great one.
It was the kind that could go either way, the kind that might be hit and, then again, might not.
To be honest, it was like the 97 pitches that preceded it yesterday, all of which had helped contribute to the no-hitter Bruce Hurst was taking into the eighth inning.
It was just another pitch.
The difference was that this one - a sinker - turned into the first hit (and the only run) off Hurst when Vance Law jumped all over it and sent it spinning into the left-field screen to close out Hurst’s chance for the first no-hitter of his career.
But although that ended Hurst’s date with baseball history, it only momentarily slowed him en route to a 3-1 win over the Chicago White Sox before a crowd of 23,978 at Fenway Park.
The victory snapped the White Sox’ six-game winning streak, pushed Hurst’s record to 4-3 and lifted the sagging spirits of a team that came to Fenway yesterday 11 games out of first place with the season barely a month old.
“It would have been nice to get the no-hitter, but it was more important to make sure we got the win,” Hurst admitted. “I knew I didn’t really have the kind of stuff today to throw a no-hitter. If I had, it would have been luck.
“After Vance hit it out, I knew the game was close. I couldn’t think about too many things except trying to stay away from a big inning. We still had a game to win.”
And Hurst, with the help of Mike Easler’s bat (two home runs), saw to that by continuing to mix his breaking pitches with a respectable fastball and maintain good control even after Law had tucked those hopes of a no-hitter high into the screen.
“After the home run you kind of wish someone had gotten a single early in the game,” Red Sox manager Ralph Houk said. “In these kind of games a young pitcher gives up a hit late and he often pitches differently.
“I was worried until he got the next guy out. He showed good concentration.”
About the only time Hurst hadn’t shown such concentration was against Law, a high school rival from American Legion days in Utah who had already ripped shots to left and center that were run down by Jim Rice and Reid Nichols.
In his third look at Hurst, however, Law got the little edge he needed when Hurst missed with his first pitch for one of the few times all afternoon. As soon as Hurst fell behind, Law concluded the next pitch would be a low breaking ball.
“I felt he had to come in with a strike from the middle of the plate in,” Law said. “He had been ahead of the hitters most of the day, which gave him the choice. But this time I had it.
“It was a decent sinker but I was looking in that location, and I think he caught more of the plate than he wanted.”
Law - hitting .176 - then caught considerably more of that ball than Hurst wanted, and he belted out his third homer of the season.
As Law circled the bases, however, Hurst was already thinking about Dave Stegman, the next batter, and the importance of retiring him quickly.
“I didn’t go out to talk with Bruce,” catcher Gary Allenson said. “I never go out after a home run. Bruce has enough experience to know the no-hitter was gone. He didn’t need me to tell him to just concentrate on winning the game.”
After retiring Stegman and Jerry Dybzinski, Hurst gave up a solid single to Scott Fletcher, but then made short work of Carlton Fisk, ending the inning with a popup to second.
The story was similar in the ninth when Hurst walked leadoff man Tom Paciorek and then retired the side without allowing another ball out of the infield.
In fact, despite having what he described as “average” stuff, Hurst allowed just seven balls out of the infield all afternoon as he quietly dominated the hitters with breaking balls and an uncanny ability to hit the right spot at the right time.
“I’ve had better stuff before,” Hurst said. “I didn’t have an overpowering fastball or a great breaking pitch. I just threw a lot of cross-seam fastballs and sinkers and they were getting under them and popping them up.
“To be perfectly honest, I didn’t have a great pitch today.”
What he did have, however, were three fine fielding plays - by Nichols, Easler and Wade Boggs - early in the game, two solo homers from Easler off Floyd Bannister (2-3) in the second and sixth, and a run in the first when Marty Barrett doubled to lead off and scored on Dwight Evans’ line out to right.
Those three runs were enough on this afternoon because Hurst had his breaking balls breaking and his mind refusing to break even as his no-hitter began drifting off toward left field.
“I thought we had the chance to score some runs right there,” Law said. “A lot of young pitchers crack after they lose a no-hitter. But he held back his emotions.”
And as he had for all but one moment, Bruce Hurst also held back the White Sox.