I know my readers have noted the fact that I have slowly pulled away from covering sports on this blog, but I had to pass along a post on “Where Have You Gone Andy Van Slyke?” There is a memory of the 1997 no hitter. I was fortunate enough to be there and, being a baseball lover at heart, it comes scarily close to rivaling the Steeler’s 2006 Super Bowl or Penn State’s 2005 win over Ohio State as the most happy I have been while watching a sporting event. The WHYGAVS summary is written beautifully, but it is written in a way that no professional writer could ever capture. Through the eyes of a true fan:
Of course, while ten different people might have ten small favorite memories about the ’97 Pirates, all ten of them have the same big favorite memory: the no-hitter. THE no-hitter. In all of my years of watching baseball, I’ve only seen one play that I swore happened in slow-motion the first time I watched it and that was Mark Smith’s home run. Francisco Cordova was probably the first iteration of the frustrating “Ace of the Future” for the Pirates. He great out of the pen in 1996, he was awesome in the rotation in ’97, then even better in ’98, and he didn’t pitch again after the year 2000. July 12, 1997 was his night, though. How do you describe the pressure that builds during a no-hitter? It was July and the Pirates, who hadn’t made the playoffs in almost five years at that point, were a game behind the Astros. Cordova had become the ace of the staff by that point in the season and he just kept stringing zeroes on the board. He struck out ten in his nine innings, but without a Pirate run, he came out in favor of Ricardo Rincon in the tenth. This is just an opinion, but that tenth inning was probably the highest leverage situation any reliever in Pirate history has ever pitched in. I still remember watching him pitch one inning that seemed to take three hours in my parents bedroom (I have no idea why we weren’t in the living room, but we weren’t). When he got out of the tenth, every Pirate fan thought the same thing: “SCORE A RUN, PLEASE!” In the bottom of the tenth, with two on and two out, Mark Smith, a journeyman who hit 32 home runs in eight big league seasons, delivered a monstrous three-run bomb. The no-hitter was preserved, the Pirates were tied for first place, and for one of the last times in recent memory all was right with Pirate baseball.
A flash in the pan starter, a journeyman pinch-hitter, and a career LOOGY combined to create the best memory the Pirates have given anyone since their last playoff appearance. No matter what happens to them for the rest of their lives, they’ll always have that game. And Pirate fans will always have that game.
I love how he remembers where he was, I still remember holding the post of my Grandmother’s four post bed (a bed she no longer has in a house she hasn’t lived in in 12 years) as Sid Briem slid home in the ’92 NLCS.