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Baseball: Ellis, Burnett know no-hitters don't always mean no hits

Sunday, May 20, 2001

Thirty-one years apart. Two no-hitters. The Pirates' Dock Ellis June 12, 1970. Florida's A.J. Burnett last Saturday night. The only no-hitters ever thrown against the Padres in San Diego/Jack Murphy/Qualcomm Stadium.

Beyond that, what could the two nights, the two men -- one from Watts, the other from North Little Rock, Ark. -- possibly have in common?

Well, plenty, as an official Guy In The Stands study this week revealed.

Readers, however, please be advised: The same research firm was employed that helped bring the Pirates to the conclusion that not allowing The Guy to enter PNC Park with his plastic bottle of Coke (ooh! did he use a bad word?) will prevent the Drunk In The Stands from barfing on him during the seventh-inning stretch.

And be advised further: In deference to Ellis, different as he was talented in his days as a Pirate (1968-75), the similarities can be seen only under special '70s retro black light. While staring at Jimi on velvet. And listening to "Sugar, Sugar" by The Archies played backward and meditating on its message: Jughead Is Dead.

The Guy's findings:

Burnett is in his third major-league season. Ellis was in his third major-league season.

Burnett is different from the stereotypical clubhouse jock. He enjoys Marilyn Manson, tattoos and nipple rings. Ellis was different from the stereotypical clubhouse jock. He sometimes could be found with his Afro in curlers.

Burnett had a hit -- a double in the second. Ellis took a hit -- LSD he later admitted. Much later.

Burnett couldn't find the plate. He threw 128 pitches, only 63 for strikes. Ellis, experiencing acid cramps and wondering if he'd even get out of the first inning, couldn't see the plate. "Sometimes I saw the catcher, sometimes I didn't," he said in an article that appeared in High Times in 1987.

Burnett walked nine, a major-league record for a nine-inning no-hitter. He also hit a batter. He broke the thumb of Padres' second baseman Damian Jackson, in fact. And threw a wild pitch, too. Ellis walked eight, tying the major-league record. And he hit a batter, too -- Ivan Murrell.

Burnett, unable to control his breaking ball, threw 121 fastballs. Ellis, too, rode the heat. If for no other reason perhaps than the fact that when he threw one it "left a blazing, comet-like tail that remained visible long after the ball was caught," according to the High Times story.

Burnett said his wildness actually contributed to the no-hitter. "I was effectively wild, put it that way," he said. Ellis' manager, Danny Murtaugh, said the same. "Dock was wild, but he was wild with good stuff."

Burnett's good stuff could be traced to a hotel room in Los Angeles. He dropped a hot iron on his pitching hand May 7 that caused a blister. In his next two starts -- including the no-hitter -- he allowed one run and three hits in 15 innings. Ellis's good stuff could be traced to a hotel room in Los Angeles. He dropped acid about noon, somehow believing that the Pirates were off that day. A Friday. In the middle of the season. Whatever. Only his girlfriend's keen eye while reading the paper keyed him to the fact that not only weren't the Pirates off, but that he was pitching the first game of a doubleheader that evening in San Diego. Ellis's response: "Whaaa ....?"

Which is what The Guy expects your reaction to be about now. Whaaa ....?

To be followed soon after by a demand for a urine sample from Burnett. Except Burnett beat you to it.

Someone mentioned the place in history he now shares with Ellis, after which Burnett admitted:

"I was drugged up, too," he told the Miami Herald, "on Excedrin and Sudafed, a lot of cold medicine."

Enough, certainly, to give Juan Antonio Samaranch cause to strip him of a gold medal. But not enough to taint a no-hitter.

"I think it was from all the smog [in L.A.], and it just got worse," he said. Sore throat. Headaches. Chills.

"I couldn't stop sweating," Burnett said of the hours leading up to game time.

Chills. Dizziness. The sweats.

Yeah, just like Dock.

Is the line dead?

Only history will judge, but The Guy wonders if the Mendoza Line isn't in jeopardy. For two decades, the line -- a .200 batting average named after former Pirates infielder Mario Mendoza, a shortstop with hands soft as a feather but a bat to match -- has been the unofficial line of demarcation between your normal big-league mediocrity and abject Luke-Walker-With-A-Bat failure. To wit, perhaps the Bell Border shall be christened in 2001?

The Guy projected Derek Bell's numbers over the course of the season and then matched them with the numbers Mendoza produced during the season in which he got his most at-bats (1979, Seattle).

The findings:

4Home runs1

Harden not your hearts

Geez! And Philadelphia fans get a bad rap. Many in the Cinergy Field crowd of 21,843 booed rookie pitcher Brian Reith when he struck out trying to bunt in the fifth inning Wednesday night against Arizona. Talk about tough. Reith, making his major-league debut and with only eight appearances as high as Class AA before starting against the Diamondbacks, had a no-hitter going at the time.

Call me Ichiro

So what's so tough about American pitching? Seattle rookie sensation Ichiro Suzuki (.375) took a 23-game hitting streak into the game Saturday against the Yankees. This is on the heels of a 15-game streak he had in April. By comparison, in the seven seasons he won batting titles in Japan, his longest streak was 23 games. But more astounding than any streak has been his consistency. Going into Friday, he had hit safely in 39 of 41 games since coming to the United States, a pace that would give him hits in 153 games. FYI: Three players share the record of 135 games with at least one hit -- Rogers Hornsby (1922), Chuck Klein (1930) and Wade Boggs (1985).

Series of the week

Mariners (31-10) at Twins (28-12), Tuesday-Wednesday. ... Isn't it about time we stop calling them surprises and start calling them contenders?

This 'n' that

Wil Cordero's tying home run against Texas in the Indians' 4-3 win Wednesday was his first since Cleveland reacquired him from the Pirates last July -- a span of 257 at-bats. ... How bad is the right knee of Phillies catcher Mike Lieberthal? He'll have to go through a month of rehab before he can even have surgery. ... After Atlanta rookie Marcus Giles hit his first big-league home run Tuesday -- a grand slam to beat the Rockies, 5-3 -- a bottle of champagne showed up in his locker. The source: brother Brian. ...

Jerry Narron is 3-10 since taking over for Johnny Oates as manager of the Texas Rangers. An impossible task? Narron will tell you about impossible challenges. He was the Yankees' starting catcher in Yankee Stadium on Aug. 3, 1979 -- the day after Thurman Munson was killed in a plane crash. ... Speaking of the Rangers, owner Tom Hicks said this week that the Rangers would be willing to deal All-Star catcher Ivan Rodriguez for the right package of young pitchers.

Shot and a jeer

Shot: The Guy took his share of jabs at Florida's Preston Wilson last year when he struck out 187 times, second most in major-league history. So he feels obligated to point out that with a mere 33 through mid-week, Wilson isn't even in the Top 10 in the National League. He's 16th.

Jeer: To the Pirates. The Guy assumes your new edict -- no outside beverages, bottles and cups allowed -- means fans should not consider bringing back to PNC Park the schedule mug you gave away April 21 nor the kids' thermal bottle you are giving away June 17 nor the thermos jugs you gave away in past years.


Box score lines of the week:

Good: A.J. Burnett, Marlins, May 12
9 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 7 Ks, 9 BB in 3-0 win vs. San Diego

Improbable? He threw only seven breaking balls the entire game.

Wild: Double play, Rockies, Wednesday
The line: 3-5-2-4-6-8, fifth inning, in 5-3 loss vs. Atlanta

Colorado catches Atlanta's Rafael Furcal in a rundown between third and home. Furcal makes it safely back to third, only to step off the base. Rockies C Ben Petrick tags him out, then sees Dave Martinez halfway between second and third. Another rundown. Martinez is finally tagged by CF Mark Little. Just your ordinary infield DP, with outs recorded by the catcher and center fielder on a ball that was never hit.

Ugly: Don Wengert, Pirates, Monday
4 2/3 IP, 9 H, 8 R, 8 ER, 3 Ks, 2 BB in 11-8 loss vs. Milwaukee

Did his part to help team ERA climb from 4.66 on May 1 to 5.27 today.

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