Twenty-six outs are no problem for Dave Stieb. It's that last one the Toronto Blue Jays right-hander can't get.
Three times in less than a year, Stieb has needed one out to pitch a no-hitter. He has failed each time.
Stieb (11-6) was working on a perfect game Friday night before 48,789, the largest crowd in Toronto history, when Roberto Kelly, the ninth hitter in the New York Yankees' lineup despite a .320 average, smashed a 2-and-0 pitch into left field for a double. Stieb had struck out two pinch-hitters before facing Kelly.
Stieb then lost his shutout when Steve Sax followed with a single, but Stieb got Luis Polonia to ground into a force-out to give the Blue Jays a 2-1 victory.
In his last two starts last season Stieb pitched consecutive one-hitters. In each, he was one strike away from a no-hitter when he gave up the hit.
It was Stieb's second complete game this season. The other was a one-hitter against the Yankees April 11. Jamie Quirk spoiled that one in the fifth inning.
The other spoilers of Stieb's no-hit bids were Julio Franco of Cleveland last Sept. 24 and Jim Traber of Baltimore Sept. 30.
"It's disappointing, but I've been through it before," said Stieb, who struck out 11. "After they got the hit, I had to bear down and just win the game. That was the big thing, winning. It took a great play by (third baseman) Kelly Gruber to win.
"I got behind Kelly and made a good 2-and-0 pitch, but he got around on it. Whenever you take it into the ninth, you have to be aware of (a no-hitter). I was a little nervous this time because of those other two."
Five other major league pitchers have lost no-hitters in the ninth this season. They are Tom Browning of Cincinnati, Kirk McCaskill of the Angels, John Farrell of Cleveland, Nolan Ryan of Texas and Mark Langston of Seattle. Browning lost a perfect game when Philadelphia's Dickie Thon opened the ninth with a double.
The Blue Jays scored off Clay Parker (3-2) in the second inning on two singles and an infield out, and again in the sixth on singles by Nelson Liriano and Mookie Wilson.
"I had pretty good control, good rhythm and good stuff," Stieb said.
The crowd gave Stieb a standing ovation when he came out to pitch the ninth. He then struck out pinch-hitters Hal Morris and Ken Phelps.
Asked what he will be thinking if he ever approaches a no-hitter again, Stieb, 32, from Santa Ana, said, "It'll be in the back of my mind."
CLOSE, BUT NO CIGAR A list of no-hit bids that reached the ninth inning this season with date, pitcher's name, team, and player who broke up the no-hitter:
Date Pitcher, Team Player, Team Hit April 23 Nolan Ryan, Nelson Liriano, Toronto one-out triple Texas April 28 Kirk McCaskill, Nelson Liriano, Toronto leadoff double Angels May 4 John Farrell, Kevin Seitzer, Kansas City no-out single Cleveland May 10 Mark Langston, Tom Lawless, Toronto leadoff single Seattle July 4 Tom Browning, Dickie Thon, Philadelphia leadoff double Cincinnati Aug. 4 Dave Stieb, Roberto Kelly, New York two-out double Toronto