An official scorer’s ruling, rather than an umpire’s decision, created a controversy when Bob Forsch pitched his first big-league no-hitter for the Cardinals.
Like the no-hitter pitched by the Mets’ Johan Santana against the Cardinals in 2012, Forsch’s gem against the Phillies in 1978 stirred an array of emotions.
Santana pitched the first no-hitter in franchise history in the Mets’ 8-0 victory over the Cardinals on June 1, 2012, at New York. Boxscore A drive by center fielder Carlos Beltran that was ruled foul by third-base umpire Adrian Johnson appeared to land fair on the outfield chalk. The disputed call led to suggestions for more instant-replay review and prompted the St. Louis Post-Dispatch to attach an asterisk to the achievement.
The uproar was reminiscent of the Forsch no-hitter in the Cardinals’ 5-0 victory over the Phillies on April 16, 1978, at St. Louis. Boxscore
Like Beltran against Santana, a center fielder hit the ball that led to the dispute in the Forsch no-hitter. Garry Maddox opened the eighth against Forsch with a grounder to the left of third baseman Ken Reitz. The ball bounced into the outfield after Reitz appeared to tip it with his glove.
Neal Russo, the official scorer and a veteran baseball reporter for the Post-Dispatch, unhesitatingly ruled it an error. The next batter, catcher Bob Boone, grounded into a double play and Forsch retired the final four batters without incident for the first of his two big-league no-hitters.
It was the first Cardinals no-hitter in St. Louis since Jesse Haines achieved the feat against the Braves, also by a 5-0 score, on July 17, 1924. (Right fielder Casey Stengel made the last out.) Boxscore
The Phillies were unsparing in their criticism of Russo’s call.
“Base hit all the way,” Phillies manager Danny Ozark told Russo. “Reitz didn’t even touch the ball.”
Said Phillies third baseman Mike Schmidt: “Forsch pitched a dazzling one-hitter.”
Bake McBride, the Phillies’ right fielder and a former Cardinal, said, “We almost all fell off the bench when the call was made.”
Russo never wavered. “I thought Reitz should have had it,” Russo told the Associated Press. “I called it immediately. It was an ordinary play, maybe a step to Reitz’s left. The ball wasn’t hit that hard. There was no doubt in my mind.”
Responding to the criticism, Russo said, “Of course, the Phillies, to a man, argued. But that’s human nature.”
The Cardinals were just as adamant in their support of the call. Broadcaster Mike Shannon, the former Cardinals third baseman, told Russo, “It was an error, but it’s going to be controversial. Reitz had a chance to make the play and he didn’t.”
Explained Reitz: “I thought the ball was hit a lot harder than it was. When I went for the ball, I double-pumped and when I came up with the glove the second time, the ball hit the webbing and went by me. I make that play 99 out of 100 times. This was the 100th time. It was an error all the way.”
Somewhat lost amid the hubbub was the dominant pitching of Forsch, who used mostly fastballs, curves and change-ups to stop the Phillies.
“He had full command of everything he threw,” Cardinals catcher Ted Simmons said to the Associated Press.
Said Forsch: “When I was warming up, I didn’t think I had real good stuff. So I just tried to keep the ball down in the first three innings and mixed up my pitches.”
It was the first Cardinals no-hitter since Bob Gibson’s masterpiece against the Pirates in an 11-0 victory at Pittsburgh. Simmons also was the catcher in that game. Boxscore
An appreciative Cardinals manager Vern Rapp said of Forsch, “He’s a complete pitcher now. He was a master out there this time. An artist.”
It would be the last win of Rapp’s tenure as St. Louis manager. After the Cardinals lost their next five in a row, Rapp was fired.