When it was over, when the Chicago White Sox's Joe Cowley had his unlikely no-hitter against the Angels Friday night, he placed the baseball against his mouth and planted a wet one.
This was some courtship.
For nine innings, the right-handed Cowley had fought against two foes: the Angels and himself. He won, 7-1, but not without first allowing seven walks and yielding a sixth-inning sacrifice fly that brought in the Angel run.
This wasn't perfection, not even close. But Cowley, who presented the major leagues with its first no-hitter since Angel pitcher Mike Witt ended the 1984 season with a perfect game against Texas, had only one ball, a second-inning line drive to left-center by Reggie Jackson, that seemd to offer the threat of a hit. Chicago left fielder Steve Lyons wound up making the catch easily.
"I started to think no-hitter in the seventh inning," Cowley said. "The bad inning I had in the sixth was on my mind, but I shut them down in the seventh and I started thinking I could do it.
"But now, I can't believe it."
About that sixth inning. Cowley came close to becoming a spectator when he began the inning by walking Bob Boone . . . then Gary Pettis . . . and then Wally Joyner to load the bases and put a 3-0 Chicago lead in jeopardy.
Brian Downing followed in the order. This was the guy who had the game-winning, two-run homer Wednesday night to beat the Kansas City Royals in the bottom of the 10th.
But Cowley coaxed Downing into a high pop-up to second baseman Jack Perconte for the first out.
Then came Jackson. All Jackson had done lately was hit three home runs Thursday night against the Royals. Pressure is Jackson's best friend, his label of sorts. Mr. October and all that.
Jackson lined a Cowley pitch to center. Boone scored, but the no-hitter was safe as Doug DeCinces popped to second base to end the inning.
Later, when Cowley had tucked his souvenir ball safely away, White Sox Manager Jim Fregosi said he would have replaced his pitcher had Jackson walked in the sixth.
In the seventh, the Angels went down in order. Strikeouts of Bobby Grich and rookie Devon White by Cowley, who struck out eight in the game, and a fly ball to center by Dick Schofield saw to that.
In the ninth, Downing walked. Again Jackson came to the plate, and again he flied out to center.
And then it was over. DeCinces grounded toward shortstop Ozzie Guillen. As the ball moved past the pitcher's mound, Cowley raised his right arm in triumph.
Guillen waited a moment, as Perconte moved to cover second base, then tossed the ball. Perconte tagged second and threw to Russ Morman at first for a double play and a place in history for Cowley. An Anaheim Stadium crowd of 28,647 stood and presented the White Sox pitcher with a gift of their own--a standing ovation.
"When DeCinces came up in the ninth, I wanted to keep it down and away," Cowley said. "He hit it right to Ozzie, and he fired it to Perconte, and I knew I had it. It's great. It's something you don't ever think about."
Cowley faced 32 Angel batters. Reviews were mixed.
"He had good stuff," Grich said, "an excellent fastball. The ball was in on you fast. And he's not easy to pick up."
But this from Joyner: "He was either two feet outside or right on the black (the corner). He did his job. He got 27 outs. But he wasn't tough at all, he wasn't. We didn't get a hit, that's all that happened.
"If you guys don't look up at the scoreboard, you'd think he gave up eight or nine hits. When he was around the plate, he was barely around it. I'm not even frustrated. It wasn't impressive, it wasn't. Not to put Joe Cowley down, but it wasn't impressive."
Cowley, 28, did more than just pitch a no-hitter against the Angels. He stifled a team that had scored 18 runs on 20 hits one night earlier. More important to the Angels, Cowley temporarily interrupted the magic number countdown. Texas won Friday night, and the number remained stuck on eight.
Kirk McCaskill (16-9) got the loss. It was McCaskill who was the opposing pitcher the night of June 16 when Ranger Charlie Hough flirted with a no-hitter of his own. The Angels spoiled those plans in the ninth and won the game in dramatic fashion.
No such luck Friday night. Cowley (11-9), a 6-foot 5-inch, 210-pound pitcher who earlier this season spent time in the minors after a poor start against the Boston Red Sox, proved that walks don't always come back to haunt. They can, on occasion, scare the bejabbers out of you.
"You just go out and throw as hard as you can for as long as you can," Cowley said. "The whole world knows I was in Buffalo earlier this year. I've come a long way since spring training."
Joe Cowley had a 21-8 record before this season. He broke into the majors in 1982 with the Atlanta Braves, then was traded to the New York Yankees. After 9-2 and 12-6 seasons with New York, he was sent to Chicago with Ron Hassey in a deal that sent pitcher Britt Burns to the Yankees. . . . Lost in the shuffle of Thursday night's 18-3 Angel victory and Reggie Jackson's three home runs was Mike Witt's 18th victory. Witt should have at least three more starts for his try at a 20-win season: Tuesday against Cleveland; Sunday, Sept. 26, against Texas, and Friday, Oct. 1, against Texas.
NO-HITTERS THROWN AGAINST THE ANGELS
Date Team Pitcher(s) Score June 26, 1962 Boston Earl Wilson 2-0 Sept. 28, 1975 Oakland Vida Blue 5-0 Glenn Abbott Paul Lindblad Rollie Finger May 30, 1977 Cleve. D. Eckersley 1-0 Sept. 22, 1977 Texas Bert Blyleven 6-0 Sept. 19, 1986 Chicago Joe Cowley 7-1