1968 was the year of the pitcher. However, when Gaylord Perry hurled a no-hitter for San Francisco against the St. Louis Cardinals on September 17, 1968, it was just the fourth no-hitter of the season, not an usually high number.
On September 18, when the Giants again played the Cardinals, the pitching matchup wasn’t nearly as mouth watering as the day before when Perry beat Bob Gibson 1-0. However, the game did feature two pitchers having outstanding seasons.
The Giants started Bob Bolin, who would finish the season second to Gibson in the National League in ERA with a 1.99 mark. St. Louis countered with Ray Washburn, an average pitcher (his promising career was hampered by serious arm trouble) having an excellent season. Entering the game, Washburn was 13-7 with a 2.39 ERA.
The Cardinals had already clinched the pennant, but were slumping. Their record for the month of September stood at 7-8.
Neither Bolin nor Washburn yielded a hit through the first four innings, and both faced the minimum number of hitters possible. In the top of the fifth, Mike Shannon broke the ice with a two-out single. Phil Gagliano followed with a walk, but Bolin got Dick Schofield on a pop-up.
There were no more hits until the top of the seventh. Orlando Cepeda singled with one out and advanced to second on an out by Johnny Edwards. Off-the-bat, Edwards’ ball looked like a possible double-pay, but Cepeda got a great start towards second base, so the Giants took the sure out at first. Shannon then doubled Cepeda home with the first run of the game.
Washburn now needed nine outs to get the shut-out win.
In the bottom of the seventh, Bolin walked Ron Hunt and, after striking out Willie Mays, walked Willie McCovey, as well. Both runners moved up on groundout by Jim Ray Hart. Now, a single would not only break up the no-hitter, it would likely put the Giants ahead.
The batter was Dick Dietz. Washburn struck him out. He was now six outs away from a no-hitter.
The Cardinals got an insurance run in the top of the eighth with an assist from Washburn. Schofield doubled to lead off the inning. Washburn bunted him to third base on a sacrifice. Lou Brock couldn’t bring Schofield home, but Curt Flood did, on an infield single.
Washburn got Ty Cline on a grounder for the first out in the bottom of the eighth. Giants manager Herman Franks then sent up back-to-back pinch hitters. First, light-hitting Bob Schroeder batter for light-hitting Hal Lanier. Schroeder grounded out, first baseman to the pitcher.
Next, Dave Marshall, a useful pinch-hitter, batted for Bolin. Washburn walked him, the fifth and final walk he issued on the day. That brought up rookie Bobby Bonds. Washburn got him to pop out.
In the bottom of the ninth, Washburn faced the heart of the Giants order — pesky Ron Hunt followed by future Hall of Famers Mays and McCovey. The Giants been beating Washburn’s cut fastball into the ground all day. Only one of their outs had reached the outfield. The trend continued in the ninth, as Washburn induced ground outs from Hunt and Mays.
Up stepped McCovey. Washburn tried to bust him inside. McCovey lashed the ball to right-field, deep but way foul. He lofted the next pitch to deep center field. Flood tracked it down. Washburn had his no-hitter.
In addition to his 17 ground ball and pop fly outs, Washburn struck out eight. The key appears to have been his slow curve ball, a pitch he had developed that season and to which he attributed the career year he was having. Out of 138 total pitches, 42 were curves. After the game, Mays said, “I never saw a guy throw a curve much better. It floated, but you couldn’t hit it.”
Coming right after Perry’s no-hitter, Washburn’s gem meant that back-to-back no-hitters had been pitched in the same ballpark for the first time in Major League history. There had been no-hitters on consecutive days in St. Louis between the Browns and the White Sox back in 1917, but the second of them occurred in the back-end of a double-header. So the no-hitters weren’t consecutive.
Washburn received good news after the game. St. Louis general manager Bing Devine announced that the veteran right-handed would receive a new contract with a pay raise retroactive to the beginning of the 1968 season. The amount of the raise? $3,000 a year.