July 12th, 1997
You know how some no hitters are sometimes thrown by the unlikeliest of players? Well this is one of those cases. If you don’t know who Francisco Cordova is, don’t feel too bad. He only pitched in 166 games, started 112 of them, but one of those just happened to be a no-hitter. Well, a combined no-hitter.
For the first 9 innings of the game against the Houston Astros Francisco Cordova mowed through one of the toughest line-ups in baseball. One that now includes two Hall of Famers (Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell), late bloomer Luis Gonzalez, and other notables like Derek Bell and Brad Ausmus.
Somehow, Cordova managed 10 strikeouts, zero hits, and two walks in 9 innings of work. He threw 121 pitches, and that’s not all he did. Cordova did everything in his power to try and win this game in 9 innings. Not only did he manage 9 no-hit innings against the eventual division champion Astros, he even got two hits himself.
But who just so happened to keep the Pirates’ line-up, a group that included All-Star level players Tony Womack, Jason Kendall, Kevin Young, and Jose Guillen, from scoring? Why none other than Chris Holt. Holt has a career 4.76 ERA and 4.33 FIP, so another unlikely hero coming through. He only let 6 Pirates base runners all game through his 7.2 innings of work.
The Pirates weren’t able to score any runs in the first 9 innings of play, so it went into extras. After a scoreless top of the 10th from Moneyball legend Ricardo Rincon, the Pirates bats finally woke up. After Dale Sveum struck out, Jason Kendall walked against John Hudek. Jose Guillen flew out to center, but then outfield bench role player Turner Ward walked, pushing the winning run into scoring position. Then pinch-hitting for Rincon, Mark Smith, a guy who up to that point of his career had 211 plate appearances, and 7 home runs, blasted a walk off 3-run home run, winning the game for the Pirates. Smith only would have 32 total home runs in his career, but I’m sure none are bigger than that walk-off.
This game was arguably the top highlight of the 1997 ‘Freak Show’ Pirates. In 1997, the Pirates had the lowest payroll in baseball and were expected to be a last place team. However, despite finishing with a losing record, they were in the National League Central division race until the final week of the season