July 27, 1970 – The Curse of Clay Kirby

Ervin Santana

On July 27, 2011, Ervin Santana of the Los Angeles Angles thew a no-hitter against the Indians, in Cleveland. What makes this game somewhat unusual is that it was not a shutout. Cleveland managed to score a run in the first inning without getting a hit. They did it on a walk, stolen base, ground out and wild pitch. The Angels won the game, 3-1, thanks to five Cleveland errors on the night.

No hitters where the opponents were not held scoreless are incredibly rare, more scarce than perfect games. In the last 50 years, there have been 8 such games, while 14 perfect games were tossed. The previous non-shutout no-hitter was Darryl Kile’s against the New York Mets on September 8, 1993, while a member of the Houston Astros. It is even possible to lose a no-hitter, as Andy Hawkins did, not once, but twice.

July 1, 1990 Chicago White Sox 4, New York Yankees 0

Andy Hawkins

Andy Hawkwins started his career with the San Diego Padres, which will curiously come into play later in this story. Following the 1988 season, Hawkins became a free agent and the New York Yankees were quick to sign the big right hander. These were not good times for the Yankees, and Hawkwins’ record from his 2 1/2 years with the team reflects that. But there was one game he pitched that nobody will forget.

The last place Yankees were in Chicago to visit the AL West leading White Sox. Andy Hawkins would face the lefty, Greg Hibbard. Both pitchers were sharp early. Razor sharp.

The first base runner came with two outs in the bottom of the fifth inning when Andy Hawkins would issue one of five walks he would give the White Sox. A passed ball and second walk made for a sloppy inning, but the frame ended with Hawkins no-hitter in tact.

Hibbard would lose his perfect game and no-hitter moments later when he gave up a pair of singles to Bob Geren and Alvaro Espinoza. He would retire Roberto Kelly and Steve Sax to end the inning, preserving the shutout. Hibbard would have a nearly identical inning in the seventh before turning the game over to the bullpen in the eighth.

Meanwhile, Hawkins had not surrendered a hit, nor would he for the remainder of the game. Not even Steven King or Clive Barker could have imagined the horrors that would befall Hawkins in the eighth inning.

After getting two quick outs, an error by Mike Blowers allowed Sammy Sosa to reach base, and extend the inning. Sosa, yes – that Sammy Sosa, would steal second base. Hawkins would then load the bases by walking both Ozzie Guillen and former Cardinal Lance Johnson. When he gets Robin Ventura to hit a fly ball to Jim Leyritz, Hawkwins thinks he has worked out of this jam. But not so quick. Leyritz drops the ball and two runs score on the play.

If Hawkins can just retire Ivan Calderon, maybe things will still work out. Two runs isn’t that bad, is it ? And what just happened can’t happen again, can it ?

It can, and it did. Calderon hits a fly ball to right field this time, and Jesse Barfield misplays it, allowing two more runs to score. It is now 4-0 and the White Sox don’t even have a hit.

That’s all the scoring in the game as the Yankees go quietly in the top of the ninth inning. Andy Hawkins takes the loss in spite of not allowing a single hit in 8 innings pitched. But he still has his no-hitter, right ?

Um no. In addition to losing the game, he would officially lose his no-hitter a year later when an official statistics rule clarification required that a no-hitter last at least 9 innings. Since Hawkins only threw 8 innings in the loss, he would lose his no-hitter. For the second time.

What does this have to do with Clay Kirby ? We have to go back to July 21, 1970 to get that answer.

July 27, 1970 – New York Mets 3, San Diego Padres 0

This mid-season matchup between the reigning World Champion Mets and expansion Padres gave the fans in San Diego a rare treat – a pitchers duel from two unlikely hurlers: Jim McAndrew and Clay Kirby. Kirby’s history is interesting because there is a St. Louis tie-in.

Clay Kirby

Clay Kirby was drafted by the Cardinals in 1966 and worked his way through the farm system as you would have wanted. A year in rookie ball was followed by a year at class A. After a dominating start at Arkansas (AA) in 1968, he was promoted to Tulsa (AAA) where he would play alongside future stars Wayne Granger and Mike Torrez. He held his own on a very good Oilers pitching staff, and looked like someone that might pitch for the Cardinals some day.

The 1969 expansion draft ended that possibility when the San Diego Padres drafted him in in the 12th round. The Cardinals had too many pitching prospects (Jerry Reuss, Mike Torrez, Al Santorini, Chuck Taylor) to protect Kirby, so he was off to San Diego. Instead of continuing his development in top notch minor league system, he would have to learn his craft at the major league level.

Kirby would get off to a very rough start in this game. Tommy Agee would start things off with a walk and immediately steal second base, getting into scoring position. Bud Harrelson would fail to move the runner along when he popped up to short. A walk to Ken Singleton sets up the play of the game.

With Art Shamsky batting, Agee and Singleton take off on a successful double steal – one of the most exciting plays in baseball. Agee scores moments later when Shamsky grounds out. Kirby strikes out Cleon Jones to end the inning, but the Mets had a 1-0 lead, in spite of not getting a hit.

Former Cardinal utility man, Ed Spezio, gets the first Padres hit, a double to lead off the third inning. He would be stranded there as the next three hitters would make outs. McAndrew lost the no-hitter, but the shutout was still in tact.

McAndrew would give up another double in the fourth inning, this time to Al Ferrara. As with the previous inning, he would be stranded at second base when Nate Colbert flies out to end the inning.

The Mets right-hander would give up his third and final hit in the next inning, a two out single to Bob Barton. That’s as far as Barton would progress as the next hitter was Clay Kirby. He would strike out to end the inning.

Meanwhile, Kirby had not allowed a hit. He had given up an earned run, but not a hit.

He almost gave up a second run when a leadoff walk to Joe Foy to start the eighth inning led to a most exciting play. After Foy steals second base, Jerry Grote would ground out, allowing Foy to take third base with just one out. Jim McAndrews came up to bat with a chance to break up Kirby’s no-hitter, or at the very least, to get an insurance run.

Neither happened.

McAndrew grounded out to first baseman Nate Colbert, who quickly threw home in time to catch the speedy Foy trying to score. The inning would come to an end with the Mets holding onto a slim 1-0 lead.

The Curse of Clay Kirby

Jim McAndrew would quickly retire the first two Padres batters in the eighth inning. That presented manager Preston Gomez with a difficult decision. Does he pinch hit for Kirby, or leave him in to finish his no-hitter ? Tony La Russa faced a similar situation with Bud Smith on September 2, 2001, and chose to leave the young left-hander in the game. Ironically, that game was against the San Diego Padres.

Gomez chose differently, and lifted Clay Kirby for a pinch hitter. The Curse of Clay Kirby started the moment Clarence (Cito) Gaston stepped up to the plate. Naturally, he would strikeout, which would give the curse-hunters one more piece of evidence.

The ninth inning was a complete disaster for Padres reliever and former Phillies closer Jack Baldschun. The Mets would send seven men to the plate and give McAndrew a pair of much needed insurance runs. He didn’t need them as he retired the Padres in order in their half of the inning, without a ball even leaving the infield. McAndrew earns the win with a nifty 3 hitter while Kirby goes 8 innings without allowing a single hit. But takes the loss.

Did Gomez’s decision to remove Clay Kirby from a no hitter really curse the Padres ? I don’t know, but in their 42 year existence as a franchise, no Padres pitcher has thrown a no hitter, although a few have come close.

Steve Arlin came close in 197 two years after Kirby’s game. After throwing several two hitters, and even a 1 hitter, he took a no-hitter into the ninth inning against the Philadelphia Phillies. Denny Doyle would break up the no-hitter with a single. After a balk, Arlin loses the shutout when he gives up the second hit of the game.

Chris Young would also come close on September 22, 2006. He would take a no hitter into the ninth inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates. With one out, a walk to Jose Bautista would bring pinch hitter Joe Randa to the plate. With one swing of the bat, Young loses the no-hitter and shutout when Randa hits a 2 run homer. Young would not even finish the game.

And finally, earlier this season, four Padres pitchers (Aaron Hurang, Chad Qualls, Mike Adams and Josh Spence) would hold the Los Angeles Dodgers hitless into the ninth inning. The fifth Padres pitcher, former Cardinal Luke Gregerson would retire the first two Dodgers before giving up a double and single to lose the game.

Is there a curse ? The Padres have been no-hit seven times, including twice to Cardinals pitchers (Bud Smith, Bob Forsch). They have never thrown one, and bad things seem to happen when they come close. Dont tell Andy Hawkins, who started his career in San Diego – he knows. I’ll let you decide whether or not the Padres are cursed. Perhaps it is just an interesting set of coincidences.

Bob Netherton covers Cardinals history for i70baseball.com and writes at On the Outside Corner. You may follow Bob on Twitter here or on Facebook here.

2 thoughts on “July 27, 1970 – The Curse of Clay Kirby

  1. Andy Ashby also took a no-no into the ninth for the Padres, 5 Sept 97. It was broken up by Kenny Lofton. I just happened to be there that night, that’s why I remember.

    1. Thanks Mike. I knew there was another near-no-hitter, I just couldn’t remember who it was. And soon after that Lofton hit, Fred McGriff hit a 2 run homer to cost him the shutout. Perhaps he was allowed to keep the win since he was only in San Diego for a short while :-)

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