August 3, 1987: Yankees 0, Indians 2
NYY 000 000 000 – 0 1 1
Cleve 110 000 00x – 2 6 0
“The first time I came close to a no-hitter was against the Yankees, when I took a no-no into the eighth inning,” Candiotti recalls in a conversation for the book A Life of Knuckleballs. “But Mike Easler broke that one up and I ended up with a one-hitter.”
When Candiotti became only the 22nd pitcher since 1918 to toss a nine-inning one-hitter versus the Yankees, it turned out to be a big game. It would be the start of an ugly 3-10 slide that knocked the Yankees out of first place in the AL East.
Wait, you say. The Yankees in contention in the 1980s? Nah, can’t be true. Pure myth, right? Nobody in their right mind would consider the Yankees of that decade to be any good. It’s a well-known fact that they didn’t win any championships in the 1980s, and didn’t make the postseason in that decade after losing the ’81 World Series.
But it would be inaccurate to say the Yankees of that era weren’t any good. In the 1980s, they still had good hitters such as Dave Winfield, Don Mattingly, Willie Randolph, Rickey Henderson, and Don Baylor. Left-hander Ron Guidry was still in pinstripes—and would be until 1988—and had 20-win seasons in 1983 and 1985. The Yanks also had All-Star left-hander Dave Righetti, who began the decade as a dependable starter before becoming a star closer by the mid-1980s.
In 1985, the Yankees, who finished 97-64, went into their season-ending series against Toronto still with a shot at the AL East title, but were finally eliminated by losing their penultimate game. New York ended up with the league’s second-best record, trailing only the Blue Jays’ 99 victories. But in those days, with only two divisions and no wild card, the Yankees missed out on the postseason while the 91-win Kansas City Royals, champions of the West, took on Toronto in the ALCS.
In 1983, New York won 91 games but finished third, seven games behind the AL East-winning Orioles. In ’84, the Yankees again finished with enough wins to capture a division championship in the West. But their 87-75 record was good enough only for third in the East, while the Royals won the West with only 84 victories.
In 1986, the Yankees finished 90-72, second in the division, 5.5 games behind Boston. But they weren’t as close as the final standings indicated, as they were 10 games out with only 12 games to go. They won nine of those final 12 contests to reach 90 victories, including a meaningless four-game sweep at Fenway Park to close out the season, with the Red Sox having already clinched the division.
But 1987 seemed like a different year. Entering play on August 3rd, they had the AL’s best record at 64-41—that’s .610 baseball, a 99-win season over a full 162-game schedule—and were 2.5 games ahead of second-place Toronto. They’d just won six of their last seven games, including a big series victory over Detroit (the eventual division champion), and were in Cleveland for the start of a two-game series against the hapless Indians, who at 37-67 had baseball’s worst record.
That opener pitted left-hander Steve Trout—who was acquired from the Chicago Cubs on July 12th—against Candiotti. Trout had tossed back-to-back shutouts in his final two starts for Chicago before being dealt to New York. Though he hadn’t won a game yet in three Yankee starts, he’d looked good in his previous outing against Kansas City, tossing six shutout innings. Meanwhile, Candiotti was 3-11 on the season and had compiled a 5.09 ERA in five July starts.
But what do you know? Cleveland got ahead 2-0 after two innings, and Trout was gone in the fourth after throwing a two-out wild pitch. It was Trout who looked more like a knuckleballer, not Candiotti. Trout’s line: 3.2 innings, three hits, five walks, and three wild pitches. Yankees catcher Mark Salas was also charged with a passed ball, and—according to the Melville Newsday—there were four other pitches from Trout that bounced past him.
Ironically, the guy with the knuckleball had no such problems. Candiotti retired 21 of the first 22 Yankees—with only a second-inning walk to Winfield ruining his shot at perfection—taking a no-hitter into the eighth. Through seven innings, just one baserunner! And this was a lineup that had Mattingly, Winfield, Mike Easler, and Mike Pagliarulo (who’d smack 32 homers in 1987) in the 3-4-5-6 spots in the batting order.
Mattingly thought the key to Candiotti’s pitching was his knack for throwing strikes all evening. It didn’t matter what he was throwing, whether it was the knuckler, curve, or fastball. “He just got ahead in the count, batter after batter,” said Mattingly that night. “When you do that, you’ve got the freedom to throw the knuckleball all the time” (Michael Martinez, “Indians Blank Yankees on Candiotti’s One-Hitter,” Associated Press/New York Times, August 4, 1987).
Candiotti remembers he didn’t throw that many knuckleballs—only about 30-40 percent. “I mixed in my fastballs, slow curveballs, and changeups with the knuckler,” he says. “I threw more fastballs and curveballs than the knuckleball.” All of those pitches worked. After the walk to Winfield, Candiotti retired the next 18 batters in a row.
Alas, Easler led off the top of the eighth with a clean single to rightfield that broke up the no-no. It came on a 3-2 fastball that dropped in, just in front of charging centerfielder Brett Butler. “I fell behind 3-0 to Easler,” Candiotti recalls. “When the count was 3-1, he absolutely ripped a fastball 350 feet to rightfield which went just outside the foul pole. I was fortunate that it went foul. Now, with the count 3-2, I didn’t wanna walk him, so I threw him another fastball. It was a fastball, high and inside.”
Easler managed to get his bat on the pitch, hitting a weak little blooper that dropped in. “He just blooped a single to rightfield that fell no more than 12 feet in front of Butler,” Candiotti says. “Brett was charging hard for the ball but he couldn’t have gotten to it. It was hit too shallow for him, and too deep for [second baseman] Tommy Hinzo. It was just a little soft line drive that dropped in for a hit. No chance for anybody to get to it.”
Easler said afterward that he was looking for the fastball, and guessed right, knowing Candiotti couldn’t afford to walk him with the left-handed Pagliarulo on deck and the left-handed Dan Pasqua still on the bench. “I didn’t think I’d see a knuckleball with a 3-2 count,” Easler said. “We were down by two. You don’t want to put a guy on base and bring the tying run to the plate” (Marty Noble, “Candiotti Shows His Stingy Side,” Newsday, August 4, 1987).
But with the tying run indeed at the plate, Candiotti settled down and got three straight groundball outs to end the eighth. In the ninth, Henry Cotto struck out, Claudell Washington grounded out to second, and on a two-strike knuckleball, Gary Ward swung wildly and missed for the final out. Only two Yankees reached base, with Candiotti walking one, striking out five, and throwing 108 pitches.
Why did a good ballclub like the Yankees—a first-place team at the time—have so much trouble against him? “They had an aggressive club,” Candiotti says. “Their hitters liked swinging for the fences, and I guess when they faced pitchers that threw off-speed stuff, they didn’t do so well. If you had a pitcher that threw knuckleballs or changed speeds, you had a good chance of shutting them down.”
It was the start of the end for the ’87 Yankees, who at the time were the AL’s best team. Including the one-hitter, they’d lose 10 of their next 13 games—including another loss to Candiotti on August 14th—to fall out of first place for good, going from 2.5 games up to three games out during that slide. By season’s end, they’d finish in fourth place at 89-73, nine games out.
Was it because Candiotti’s knuckleballs put them into a slump?* He laughs. “Actually, like I said, I threw maybe 30-40 percent. I threw mostly knuckleballs to Mattingly and Winfield, though, because those two guys were the big bats in their lineup that could do the most damage. I used my other pitches also, so I had everything working that night.”
According to Candiotti, there was one upside that the no-hitter was gone. He no longer got the silent treatment when he returned to the dugout after the top of the eighth inning. “When a pitcher’s throwing a no-hitter, nobody in the dugout talks to him because they don’t wanna jinx him. It’s one of these baseball superstitions. So, for the longest time—maybe after the fourth inning—nobody said anything to me when I was on the bench. It felt very strange for me, because I’d never experienced it before. But when I got back to the dugout after the no-no was broken up, [pitcher] Scott Bailes came up to me and said, ‘Oh, good. Now I can talk to you.’”
Four weeks later, Candiotti came close to another no-hitter—and endured the silent treatment from his teammates in the dugout once again. Steve Trout, meanwhile, would be winless with the Yankees, going 0-4 with a 6.60 ERA in 14 appearances before being traded to Seattle in the off-season.
*In the 1988 season finale, Candiotti defeated the playoff-bound Red Sox, who then got swept by Oakland in the ALCS. Was it Candiotti’s knuckleball that put the Boston hitters in a slump? “Nah,” he laughs. “I think it was more the fact that they were facing Dave Stewart and Dennis Eckersley in the playoffs.”
Did You Know?
Two or fewer baserunners…
From 1970 to 2010, only seven Indians pitchers threw complete games in which they allowed two or fewer baserunners. (Candiotti’s was just the 15th since 1918.)
Pitcher / Date / Opponent / Result
Dick Bosman / Jul. 19, 1974 / Athletics / no-hitter/one baserunner
Dennis Eckersley / May 30, 1977 / Angels / no-hitter/one baserunner
Dennis Eckersley / Aug. 12, 1977 / Brewers / one-hitter/two baserunners
Len Barker / May 15, 1981 / Blue Jays / perfect game
Tom Candiotti / Aug. 3, 1987 / Yankees / one-hitter/two baserunners
Tom Kramer / May 24, 1993 / Rangers / one-hitter/one baserunner
Billy Traber / Jul. 8, 2003 / Yankees / one-hitter/one baserunner
No pitcher has ever thrown a perfect game against the Yankees. But Candiotti’s “nearly perfect” game made him just the 10th major-leaguer since 1918 to allow only two baserunners in a complete-game one-hit shutout (or no-hitter) over the Yankees.
Knuckleball No-no’s: Had Mike Easler not ruined Candiotti’s no-hitter, it would have been the first AL knuckleball no-hitter since Baltimore’s Hoyt Wilhelm against the Yankees on September 20, 1958*. The last major-league knuckleball no-hitter was in the NL, when Atlanta’s Phil Niekro no-hit San Diego in 1973.
It would’ve been fitting had Candiotti no-hit the Yankees. Entering that game, he was 3-11 on the season. Wilhelm’s no-hitter against New York came during a trying 1958 season. Used as a reliever for most of the year, Wilhelm was 2-10 before throwing the no-no.
*That afternoon, opposing pitcher Don Larsen, author of the only perfect game in World Series history (1956), allowed only one hit in six innings. Orioles catcher Gus Triandos’s 425-foot homer off reliever Bobby Shantz in the seventh won it 1-0. According to Triandos years later: “Catching Hoyt was such a miserable experience, I just wanted to end the game” (Mike Klingaman, “Catching Up With Gus Triandos,” Baltimore Sun, May 5, 2009).
Did You Know?
Coincidence? Maybe not…
When Pat Corrales was managing Cleveland in the first half of the 1987 season, he wanted Candiotti to throw nothing but knuckleballs. That idea didn’t work, as the Candy Man struggled to a 2-9 record.
After Doc Edwards took over as manager at the All-Star break, Candiotti was allowed to use his other pitches along with the knuckler. Edwards’s philosophy was that his pitcher should throw pitches that he felt comfortable with, instead of being forced to throw one pitch repeatedly.
In his second start of the post-Corrales era, Candiotti defeated Texas 4-2 in a game where he relied heavily on fastballs and curveballs. Using those two pitches to get ahead of hitters and throwing the knuckler only in certain situations, he retired the first 12 Rangers before losing the perfect game bid in the fifth inning. He finished with a four-hitter, with the only two runs against him coming on sacrifice flies. It wasn’t a no-hitter, but it was certainly a dominant effort.