Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Stoneman's second no-hitter a bright ending to a dismal season

This article was originally written for a Society for American Baseball Research book on significant games in Montreal Expos history. It got bumped.

By Tom Hawthorn

The Montreal Expos faced a gruelling schedule of eight games over five days to bring an end to an unsatisfying 1972 campaign. The club had only recently ended a string of shutout losses, finally scoring a run after putting up 32 innings' worth of goose eggs.

On October 2, the Expos faced the visiting New York Mets for the first of back-to-back doubleheaders. Bill Stoneman (11-14) got the assignment for the first game, his final scheduled start in a campaign of disappointment. He had established himself as one of the National League's premier right-handers the previous season, finishing third in strikeouts (behind only Tom Seaver and Ferguson Jenkins) while winning 17 games, including a one-hitter against the Padres. The Expos star pitcher remained a dependable workhorse, but he was not striking out batters as often, while he showed occasional wildness and a tendency to walk too many batters.

With the Expos long since eliminated from contention, the end of the ’72 baseball season was overshadowed in Canada by the drama of the 1972 Summit Series pitting Canadian hockey professionals against the best of the Soviet Union. The thrilling showdown, recalled later in a book titled, “30 days in September,” gripped the nation, as Team Canada battled back from a deficit to score a series-winning goal with only 34 seconds left in the final game.

The Canadians returned in triumph from Moscow at the airport in Montreal, where they were met by the mayor, the prime minister, and 10,000 delirious fans. The newspapers on the day of the game were filled with page after page of stories about the returning hockey heroes. Baseball was relegated to the sixth page of The Gazette's sports section, behind even reports on football's Montreal Alouettes.

The Expos were 69-82 going into the October 2 twi-night doubleheader, in fifth place in the National League East, 25 games behind the Pittsburgh Pirates. To lure fans to the park, the Expos took out a newspaper advertisement promising prizes including watches, cameras, radios, a colour television, autographed Expos' caps, and a trip for two to Acapulco, Mexico, though these would not be awarded until two days later during Fan Appreciation Night. Though the weather was pleasant for the season with the temperature at 53-degrees, only 7,184 fans made the trek to Parc Jarry, a smaller crowd than had been at the airport to greet the hockey team 24 hours earlier. The electric scoreboard beyond the right-field fence was dark, giving the game even more of the feeling of playing out the season.

Mets manager Yogi Berra gave Ken Boswell the first game off, instead starting Lute Barnes at second base. The rookie, batting leadoff, looked at a third strike called by home-plate umpire John McSherry. Barnes was followed by Jim Fregosi, who went down swinging. John Milner walked. Ed Kranepool went down swinging.

The Expos had a happier first inning at the plate. Ron Hunt, the human bull's-eye, led off by doubling to right field. He advanced when catcher Tim McCarver flied out to right, later scoring on a wild pitch by Mets right-hander Jim McAndrew (11-7). After Ken Singleton struck out, Ron Fairly homered to give the Expos a 2-0 lead.

Stoneman retired the side in order in the second, third and fourth innings with Fregosi striking out a second time and pitcher McAndrew looking at a called third strike. The Expo starter now had five strikeouts. Only two balls had been hit to the outfield, one a line-drive and the other a fly ball, both fielded easily by Jim Fairey.

Meanwhile, in the bottom the third, the Expos scored four runs to chase the starter. The inning started with Hunt being hit by a pitch. Singles by McCarver and Ken Singleton scored Hunt, leaving runners at first and second. Fairey was intentionally walked. McAndrew's final pitch of the day was knocked on a low line along the right-field line by Boots Day, who wound up on third with a triple as three runs scored. Reliever Brent Strom induced Tim Foli into hitting a grounder to Fregosi, who threw to catcher Bill Sudakis, who tagged Day out at the plate.

Hunt also got matters started in the fourth by hitting a single and coming around to score on more singles by McCarver and Singleton.

With the score 7-0 Expos, Stoneman walked Sudakis to open the fifth. With one out, Don Hahn, a former Expo, bounced a ball to Stoneman's right. The pitcher failed to spear the ball, which deflected to Foli at short. The pitcher was charged with an error, his third of the year. “Perfect double-play ball,” he said afterward. “I should have made the double play or, if I don't touch it, Foli has a perfect double play.” In the dugout, Expos manager Gene Mauch wondered whether the play had been ruled a hit, or an error, a verdict that would have greater import by game's end.

Ted Martinez then hit a grounder to Fairly, who threw to Foli at second to force Hahn. With two out, Dave Marshall pinch-hit for the pitcher, only to be called out on strikes, stranding Sudakis on third.
Barnes walked to open the sixth, the leadoff batter again getting on base, only to be erased when Fregosi hit a grounder to Foli to start a 6-4-3 double play. Stoneman walked John Milner for his fourth fourth free pass of the game. Kranepool flied out to end the inning.

In the home half of innings, Stoneman was a lonely man. “Ah, the guys don't talk about it in the dugout,” he said after the game. “That's superstition. I knew the whole game what was going on.”
After the sixth, the small crowd became more keenly aware that despite the five Mets baserunners, Stoneman had yet to be touched for a base hit.

The game's final three innings passed with little incident. Stoneman issued a walk in each of those innings (to Hahn in the seventh, Fregosi in the eigth, and to Dave Schneck in the ninth) but all three were left stranded on first base. The game ended when Foli snagged Hahn's high-bouncing, bad hop grounder — “it hit a rock or something,” the shortstop said — before flipping to Hunt at second base to force Schneck, ending the game and preserving Stoneman's no-hitter.

It was the third no-hitter pitched in 1972 (the others by Burt Hooten and Milt Pappas of the Chicago Cubs), the second no-hitter of Stoneman's career (the first coming on April 17, 1969, when he stopped the Philadelphia Phillies by 7-0 just nine days after the Expos' inaugural game), and the first major-league no-hitter to be thrown outside the United States.

As the final out was recorded, teammates mobbed No. 26 on the infield grass midway between the mound and the third-base line. Club president John McHale and general manager Jim Fanning raced onto the field to join in the celebration, McHale raising the pitcher's right hand and Fanning his left hand, like two boxing referees announcing a winner.

Stoneman's wife, the former Diane Falardeau, a stewardess whom he had met on a flight, joined him on the field, as well, kissing him before he was driven around in a bullpen buggy to receive cheers from the fans.

“It was just win number 12 for the season,” Stoneman said. Later, he added, “I'm glad I pitched the no-hitter here (at Parc Jarry) because these are the best people in all of baseball. I heard the people yelling. It felt great. Having pitched one on the road (at Connie Mack Stadium in 1969), I know that I'm happier to have pitched it here.”

McCarver caught a no-hitter thrown by Rick Wise of the Phillies the previous season. John Bateman had been the catcher for Stoneman's 1969 no-hitter. Jose (Coco) Laboy, a September call-up, was the only Expos player to take the field in both of Stoneman's no-hitters.

Oddly, it was the fourth no-hitter in which Kranepool had been on the losing side. The first baseman went 0-for-3 against a perfect Jim Bunning of the Philadelphia Phillies in 1964; 0-for-3 against Jim Maloney of the Cincinnati Reds the following year; and, 0-for-2 against Bob Moose of the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1969.

At 6 a.m. the morning after the game, Stoneman drove across the border to report for National Guard duty in Burlington, Vermont. (The last remaining Expos player to live in Montreal in the offseason, Stoneman planned to return home by car each night.) He returned to Parc Jarry midway through the next day's doubleheader, arriving not long before he was honoured in a between-games ceremony. Stoneman received a $2,000 bonus from the club, while his wife was presented with a gold ring. As well, the couple were told Air Canada would fly them free to any destinations served by the airline. McCarver got a $500 gift certificate.

The no-hitter provided a late-season moment of happiness for a pitcher and a club struggling through a mediocre season.

“There was only one way, it seems, that we could knock Team Canada from the front page,” McHale said. “That was for Stoneman to throw a no-hitter — and he did.”