This is the tale of a 22-year-old Cardinals right-hander with the initials S.M., a starting pitcher with talent so special he seemed capable of shutting down batters at any time.
Miller, a promising Cardinals right-hander, was 22 when he pitched a one-hitter, retiring 27 in a row, against the Rockies on May 10, 2013. Boxscore
In 1978, Martinez, 22, pitched a one-hitter for the Cardinals against the Mets, four days after the right-hander had pitched a no-hitter in the minor leagues.
Bringing much-needed hope to a club that would finish 69-93, Martinez pitched two one-hitters and a pair of two-hitters for the 1978 Cardinals.
Martinez debuted in the major leagues with the 1977 White Sox, pitching 10 games in relief. After the season, the White Sox sent Martinez to St. Louis, completing an August trade of reliever Clay Carroll to Chicago for players to be named. (The Cardinals also got outfielder Nyls Nyman and pitcher Dave Hamilton in the deal.)
Martinez opened the 1978 season in the rotation of the Cardinals’ Class AAA club at Springfield, Ill. On April 24, he pitched a three-hitter against Iowa. Six days later, he combined with reliever George Frazier on a two-hitter against Evansville.
On May 26, a Friday night at Omaha, Martinez flirted with a perfect game. He retired the first 23 batters. Then, with two outs in the eighth, an Omaha batter reached base on a error by third baseman John Scott, a converted outfielder.
Still working on a no-hitter, Martinez got a break when left fielder Jim Lentine made a diving catch of Jim Gaudet’s drive leading off the ninth. Martinez issued a walk but then retired the side, completing the no-hitter and improving his record to 5-2 in the 4-0 Springfield victory.
“I was throwing hard, but I wasn’t thinking about the no-hitter,” Martinez said to The Sporting News.
Desperate for pitching, the Cardinals promoted Martinez and put him into their rotation. St. Louis had lost 16 of its last 18 when Martinez made his first start in the major leagues on Tuesday night, May 30, at New York’s Shea Stadium.
Matched against Jerry Koosman, Martinez held New York hitless for six innings. In the seventh, Steve Henderson led off and hit the first pitch from Martinez over the left-field fence for a home run, ending the no-hit bid.
“I cried the minute I let it go,” Martinez said to the Associated Press of the pitch to Henderson.
But Cardinals catcher Ted Simmons told The Sporting News: “I couldn’t believe how calm (Martinez) was after his no-hit bid was wrecked. I told him to forget about it … He told me, ‘It’s not important. Don’t worry.’ ”
It was the only hit Martinez allowed. In the ninth, the Mets scored without a hit when Henderson walked, advanced on a wild pitch, moved to third on a ground out and scored on another wild pitch.
The Cardinals won, 8-2. Martinez walked six, hit a batter and struck out two. Boxscore
“I’m happy. I just want to stay here forever,” Martinez said.
A citizen of the Dominican Republic, Martinez was informed by reporters that longtime Giants ace Juan Marichal, also a Dominican Republic native, had pitched a one-hitter in his first big-league start for San Francisco in 1960. Boxscore
“I hope this is a good omen,” Martinez replied.
Though there is an obvious difference between the levels of competition in the minors and majors, the back-to-back dominant performances by Martinez also drew inevitable comparisons to the consecutive no-hitters pitched by Johnny Vander Meer of the Reds against the Braves and Dodgers in 1938.
Cardinals manager Ken Boyer, seeking another reliable starter to join Bob Forsch and John Denny, said of Martinez: “He did a heck of a job of concentrating. He is real fast and just wild enough to keep the hitters off stride. I pitched him out of sheer need. He had thrown about 100 pitches Friday night (in the no-hitter). Tonight, he threw 121 times, so that’s not too bad.”
Said Mets manager Joe Torre of Martinez: “He has a great fastball.”
Martinez pitched another one-hitter (yielding a first-inning single to Omar Moreno) in the Cardinals’ 4-0 victory over the Pirates at St. Louis on July 8. He pitched a two-hitter against the Giants at Candlestick Park on July 26 (the Cardinals won, 2-1) and another two-hitter against the Mets (Henderson got one of the two singles) on Sept. 25 at Shea Stadium (a 3-0 Cardinals victory).
In 22 starts, Martinez was 9-8 with a 3.64 ERA for the 1978 Cardinals. He yielded only 114 hits in 138.1 innings but had more walks (71) than strikeouts (45).
Plagued by injuries and illness, Martinez never developed into a consistent winner. His record in four years (1978-81) with St. Louis was 31-31 with a 3.81 ERA. In November 1981, he was dealt to the Indians in a three-team trade that brought outfielder Lonnie Smith to the Cardinals.