Thirty years ago today – July 1, 1990 – the Yankees were part of a no-hitter that wasn’t a good one for them at the time, and isn’t even one at all any more: Andy Hawkins’ “no-hitter” in a 4-0 loss to the Chicago White Sox at Old Comiskey Park.
According to an MLB rule change in 1991, a game must go at least a full nine innings to be classified as a no-hitter, so Hawkins’ no-no is no-mo, but on that day, a complete game of eight innings with no hits allowed was a milestone, and to this day, the four runs the White Sox scored are the most ever plated by a team in a game in which they recorded no hits.
That day was a windy one in Chicago (go figure) and a getaway day game to boot, so Yankees manager Stump Merrill juggled his lineup around a bit – with one of the biggest changes seeing Jim Leyritz, a rookie catcher by trade who had just made his MLB debut a month earlier and played third base the night before, playing left field in a notoriously tough outfield.
“I had hit my first two MLB homers the night before, and Stump called me in and asked if I would be okay to play left field, because he wanted my bat in the lineup against a lefty (White Sox starter Greg Hibbard),” Leyritz recalled to WFAN earlier this week. “I played one game in right my second day in the big leagues and hadn’t played left since Double-A the year before, but I told him I’d do whatever he needed me to do.”
Leyritz actually played mostly third base that season, but on paper, the move, and all of Merrill’s lineup changes, made sense: Bob Geren caught instead of Matt Nokes in a day game after a night game; righty Steve Balboni was the DH over lefty-hitting Kevin Maas; Leyritz moved to left in place of lefty Mel Hall, who, despite being the team’s cleanup hitter and main power threat, was notoriously awful against southpaws; and Mike Blowers, himself a virtual rookie (he debuted as a September call-up in 1989 but had just 41 plate appearances), got his righty bat in at the hot corner with Leyritz in the outfield.
They made sense, except for two things that cost the Yankees in the end: Leyritz had never played left field in the majors, let alone one as tricky as the one in Comiskey, and Blowers, despite his prospect status, was in the midst of a season where he hit .188 and was never exactly a Gold Glover at third, let alone in those days.
Stump, though, had a plan.
“He did tell me that playing left in Old Comiskey in a day game with wind and sun wouldn’t be easy,” Leyritz remembered, “but he actually said, ‘just try to drive in more runs then you give up.’”
You know how that story ends by now, but Leyritz, and Merrill’s decision, got an immediate test.
“First play of the game was a fly ball from Lance Johnson that started to look like it would be right at me,” Leyritz recalls, “and I ended it with a sliding catch because it got caught up in the wind. And, I had one other play where Sammy Sosa 1st Play of game was a fly ball from Lance Johnson that started to look like it would be right at me and I ended it with a sliding catch because it got caught up in the wind. I had one other play when Sammy Sosa hit a ball that looked like it would be in the upper deck, and I wound up catching it on the warning track.”
Two-for-two, despite the trickiness, and in fact, those were two of the first 23 outs Andy Hawkins recorded without allowing a hit. Hawkins actually had a perfect game into the fifth before walking Ron Karkovice with two outs, but even with three walks and several deep fly balls, he maintained the no-no through seven.
The problem? Hibbard was just as dominant, taking his perfecto into the sixth before Bob Geren singled to finally put a tally in the middle column of the scoreboard, and he held the Yankees scoreless through seven innings himself before Barry Jones took the eighth.
Then came the fateful bottom of the eighth, where Hawkins got the first two outs of the inning before Blowers, on his first defensive chance of the game, threw the ball away on a routine Sosa grounder that would’ve ended the inning.
That’s when the wheels fell off, as Hawkins walked the next two hitters before future Yankee Robin Ventura sent the then-current squad into infamy.
“Ventura hit the ball right at me, and I thought the wind was going to blow it back in, so my first step was in,” Leyritz said. “Unfortunately, the ball didn’t get high enough for the wind to take it, and as I start going back, I think like Phil Rizzuto: ‘just don’t fall.’”
Leyritz lost the ball in the sun for just a second, and by the time he realized where it was, it was clanking off his glove. With two outs, the merry-go-round was turning, so it was a three-base error that netted three unearned runs. The very next play, the White Sox added a fourth when Jesse Barfield botched Ivan Calderon’s fly to right, scoring Ventura to make it 4-0.
Hawkins “settled down” to retire ex-Yankee Dan Pasqua on a pop-up to sure-handed shortstop Alvaro Espinoza, but it took just a few minutes for White Sox reliever Scott Radinsky to send the Yankees to infamy; in the span of 13 pitches, Don Mattingly flew out to center, Balboni reached on a Ventura error, and Barfield rapped into a 6-4-3 double play to end the game and the “no-hitter.”
And thus began Leyritz’s second “moment in the sun” of the day.
“Andy came over to me before reporters came in and said, ‘hey kid, shake it off. It was tough out there but it won’t be the last error you make,’” Leyritz said. “Of course, reporters come in, and my first two homers from the night before didn’t mean a whole lot – and still don’t based on this conversation! But yeah, it was a tough loss, and a learning experience.”
One of many for the Yankees that year, as they fell to 28-45 in a season that ended 67-95, and included a no-hitter until the rule change a year later.
A blip in Yankees history now, but Merrill, Hawkins, and Blowers, three of the four “catalysts” in the loss, barely lasted longer than the no-no; the pitcher was released in May 1991, the latter was traded to Seattle about a week later, and the former was fired at the end of a 71-91 campaign.
Leyritz, though, got the last laugh on all of them, sticking with the Yankees for seven seasons before hitting another homer that will never be forgotten, one of the biggest in Yankees lore: a game-tying three-run shot in the eighth inning of Game 4 of the 1996 World Series, one that turned the tide of the game and a series the Yankees eventually won to take home their 23rd World Series Championship.
A home run, mind you, that came a couple innings after Leyritz, seeing the Yankees still down 6-3 after a sixth-inning rally fell shorter than hoped, quipped out loud, “at least we didn’t get swept.”
Perhaps 1990, then, forever lives on in him, too?