As fans across the entire baseball world know by now, St. Louis Cardinals rookie right-hander Michael Wacha came within one out of throwing a no-hitter against the Washington Nationals Tuesday night at Busch Stadium. The 22-year-old lost his gem on an infield hit with two outs in the ninth.
Pulling Wacha from the 2-0 game with a runner on first, manager Mike Matheny assured that his starter could not lose the contest, important in his club’s quest to win the National League Central. Trevor Rosenthal collected the final out to preserve Wacha’s fourth career win in his ninth start.
Interestingly, the last two no-hitters thrown by Cardinals pitchers were also authored by rookies. Even more interestingly, both of the hurlers were soon traded away.
On September 3, 2001, 21-year-old Bud Smith no-hit the Padres in San Diego. It was the left-hander’s 11th start with St. Louis and only complete-game shutout in an MLB career shortened to two years due to injury. Smith went to the Phillies in the Scott Rolen deal in July, 2002.
On June 25, 1999, Jose Jimenez did not allow a hit to the Diamondbacks in Phoenix while outduelling future Hall of Famer Randy Johnson in a 1-0 win. It was the 25-year-old right-hander’s 18th career start. Jimenez was dealt to Colorado following the 1999 season as part of the six-man trade that brought the Cardinals Darryl Kile and Dave Veres.
But, fate did not allow Wacha to join Smith and Jimenez in Cardinals history. Instead, he stands alongside hurlers Alan Benes and Rick Wise among those who came so close, only to lose their no-hit bids in the ninth inning.
Then in his second full season in the majors, the 25-year-old Benes just missed throwing a no-hitter on May 16, 1997, though it would have required extra innings to complete. Like Wacha, the right-hander lost his no-hit bid with two out in the ninth inning, but in this case, it was in the bottom of the ninth in an 0-0 game. At Atlanta, Braves outfielder Michael Tucker doubled, but after an intentional walk to Chipper Jones, Benes stranded them both by striking out the Crime Dog, Fred McGriff. Benes departed after the frame as the scoreless contest continued. The Cardinals went on to lose 1-0 in 13 innings.
Forever known as the guy acquired for Steve Carlton, right-hander Wise was a pretty fair pitcher in his own right, though clearly not a Hall of Famer. In his second of two seasons with the Cardinals, Wise threw a complete game one-hitter at the Big Red Machine. It was on June 13, 1973, at Riverfront. Future Hall of Famer Joe Morgan singled to center with one out in the ninth but was stranded as Red Schoendienst’s club breezed to an 8-0 victory.
Researcher Tom Orf is combing the archives for additional examples of Cardinals ninth-inning pitching heartbreak. I will update this article as further information becomes available.
Update: Colleague Rob Rains points out another case. In the final pre-La Russa campaign of 1995, on July 3 at Busch Stadium, 35-year-old journeyman right-hander Mike Morgan carried a no-hitter into the ninth against the Montreal Expos. After a one-out walk, Morgan gave up a single to Wilfredo Cordero. He was pulled by manager Mike Jorgensen before reliever Jeff Parrett secured the final two outs in a 6-0 win.