Saturday, March 15, 2008

By Kurt Swanson, Contributor

On the final day of the 1984 season, the Angels found themselves playing out the string, division also-rans to the Kansas City Royals. They would wrap the season in Arlington, facing the last place Rangers in front of a small crowd of 8,375.

Angels starting pitcher Mike Witt came into the game with a record of 14-11 after going 7-14 the previous season. Even before this game, 1984 had been a breakout season for the lanky right-hander as he’d doubled his win total from each of the previous three seasons and already enjoyed a 16-strikeout performance against the Seattle Mariners on July 23.

Witt, who made his Angels debut at 20 in 1981, had a great curveball and fastball, and was able to change speeds effectively with both. From 1984-1987, Witt led the Angels in victories, starts, complete games, strikeouts and innings pitched. In his best season, 1986, Witt won 18 games with a 2.84 ERA, finishing third to Roger Clemens and Teddy Higuera in A.L. Cy Young voting.

Unlikely as it seemed at the time, his last start of 1984 would prove to be the gem of Witt’s career.

Witt and Texas knuckleballer Charlie Hough were locked up in a scoreless pitcher’s duel through six innings. Hough had allowed the Angels just three hits, but Witt was quite a bit better. He was perfect, retiring all 18 batters he faced.

In the seventh, the Angels broke the deadlock with an unearned run scored on Reggie Jackson’s fielder’s choice. Witt retired the Rangers again in order in the seventh and eighth and took the mound for the ninth having fanned nine batters. The sparse crowd at Arlington Stadium rose to its feet and cheered as Witt went to work.

A first pitch strike to Tom Dunbar put his nerves at ease.

"When I walked out there for the ninth,” Witt said, “I was as nervous as I was in my first big league game. But once I threw that first strike, I got right back into it."

Two more pitches and Dunbar was quickly strikeout No. 10, but more importantly out No. 25. Pinch hitter Bobby Jones hit a routine grounder to Rob Wilfong at second for No. 26. And on a 1-1 pitch to pinch hitter Marv Foley, Witt got another easy grounder to Wilfong, who tossed it to Bobby Grich at first for the final out — and baseball immortality for Witt.

"It probably won't be until tomorrow and the next day, and every day this winter, that I'll be saying to myself, "Hey, I did that," Witt said after the game. "I mean, to get 27 straight batters out is unbelievable. For me to be able to say it is unbelievable."

Witt's perfecto is the only such game pitched on the final day of the regular season and only the second no-hitter with that distinction. (Four Oakland A's — Vida Blue, Glenn Abbott, Paul Lindblad and Rollie Fingers — combined to no-hit the Angels on Sept. 28, 1975.)

The game took just one hour and 49 minutes to complete and Witt needed only 94 pitches to finish it, 70 of them strikes.

Witt was an All-Star in 1986 and 1987 and had the Angels within one strike of the World Series in 1986. He combined with Mark Langston on April 11, 1990, to throw the most recent no-hitter in Angels history, becoming the only pitcher to participate in a collective no-hitter while also throwing his own.

Witt ranks third all-time in Angels victories (109), fifth in games (314) and third in innings (1,965.1) and strikeouts (1,283).
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