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SHOWDOWN: Dodgers and Padres

Nomo Is the Only One Not Excited About It

Baseball: No-hitter against Rockies at Coors Field considered one of pitching's great achievements.

September 19, 1996|BOB NIGHTENGALE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

DENVER — Hideo Nomo never slept. Couldn't sleep. If the phone wasn't ringing in his hotel room, his mind was spinning.

He started comprehending what he had accomplished by the time he left the Dodger clubhouse Tuesday night, having pitched the first no-hitter in the history of Coors Field, beating the Colorado Rockies, 9-0.

And if he still wasn't impressed by his accomplishment by the time he left Coors Field, all it took was a quick visit to the local 7-Eleven.

Nomo stopped in for a bag of chips and a soda. He ran into four customers who couldn't believe their good fortune. They started chanting his name. Before Nomo knew it, he was signing napkins, burrito wrappers and tissue paper.

"I was more excited than Nomo was," said Michael Okumura, Nomo's interpreter and confidant. "It's almost like he had to calm me down."

Nomo, who called his parents after the game, was low-key Wednesday. "I think the no-hitter is difficult to achieve," he said. "I know Coors Field is an advantage to the hitters, but I think wherever I go, it would be a difficult challenge to pitch a no-hitter.

"I'm just glad the team picked up the win because of the pennant race. One win means a lot at this time."

Said Okumura: "Psychologically, spiritually, he wants to be cool. If he gets too excited and says the wrong thing, it would be all over. That's why he's very careful in telling people what he wants to say."

This will be a game the Dodgers won't forget. There have been 193 no-hitters in modern baseball history, and 20 in Dodger franchise history, but nothing like this.

It will go down as the greatest pitching performance in a pennant race since Mike Scott of the Houston Astros threw a no-hitter Sept. 25, 1986, against the San Francisco Giants to clinch the National League West title.

It was one of the most dramatic no-hitters since Oct. 8, 1956, when Don Larsen of the New York Yankees pitched his perfect game in the World Series.

And the Dodgers are calling it the most memorable pitching performance since 1988, when Orel Hershiser pitched out of the bullpen to help beat the New York Mets in the National League playoffs.

"It's the greatest pitching performance I've ever seen in a middle of a pennant race," closer Todd Worrell said, "especially in these conditions and in this ballpark. To be able to do that is incredible."

Said reliever Mark Guthrie: "It's the most incredible thing I've ever seen in baseball. You'll never see it again. You can sit there and say all the superlatives, but people don't understand what a feat that was."

It's one thing to throw a no-hitter during the season, the Dodgers will tell you.

It's quite another to throw it against the Colorado Rockies . . . in Coors Field . . . in the middle of the pennant race.

The way Nomo figures it, he never succumbed a year ago to the staggering pressure of carrying the hopes and dreams of an entire country, so what's the burden of a little pennant race?

"This type of performance fits in with what he's all about," said Fred Claire, Dodger executive vice president. "If you go back to what he had to say when we first signed him [before the 1995 season], he talked about one thing. And that one thing was winning as a team.

"What we're seeing here is a reflection of that.

"To pitch a no-hitter under these circumstances is just remarkable.

"History was made."

Nomo, who had been battered in his previous two starts at Coors Field--giving up 18 hits and six walks in 9 2/3 innings with an 11.18 earned-run average--shrugged off the concept that it's nearly impossible to throw a no-hitter at Coors Field. This place may be a pitcher's nightmare with its mile-high altitude, but on this night, the conditions made the joint quite different. The 97% humidity and 46-degree temperature made Coors Field feel like, well, normal.

"The heavy air definitely helped him," said Mark Cresse, Dodger bullpen coach. "His forkball was really biting. You could tell it helped his confidence. I think some balls, like the one [Vinny] Castilla hit in the fourth, would have been out of here.

"But believe me, that shouldn't take away anything he did. The guys in the bullpen were ecstatic, I think, just because they didn't have to pitch. We didn't even get a call."

Most impressive, the Dodgers say, is Nomo's performance in the stretch. He is 4-0 with a 1.36 ERA in his last five starts. A year ago at this time, he was struggling, going 3-3 with a 4.70 ERA in seven starts until winning the division-clinching game against the San Diego Padres.

"Hideo's arm and shoulder is in much better condition this year," said Pat Screnar, Dodger physical therapist. "His arm was pretty weak when he got here because he missed the second half of the '94 season. But he put in a lot of time in his off-season program, and now you're seeing the results.

"The only thing that hasn't changed is his emotion. When he walked into the trainer's room last night, you'd never know he pitched a no-hitter."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

The Gem

Facts and figures from Hideo Nomo's no-hitter Tuesday night against the Colorado Rockies:

*--*

Innings 9 Hits 0 Runs 0 Walks 4 Strikeouts 8 Pitches 110 Ground balls 8 Fly balls 7 Pop flies 3 Pickoffs 1

*--*

* PIAZZA IN POSITION

He gets a lot of the credit for Dodgers' turnaround at Coors Field with his catching, not his hitting. C6

* JAPAN'S HERO ONCE MORE

Nomomania was almost a thing of the past in the baseball-crazed nation. But then came word of the no-hitter. C6

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