- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 4, 2002

BALTIMORE There are no-hitters, and then there are no-hitters, and last night the Baltimore Orioles nearly witnessed one of the strangest in baseball history.

Many a major-league pitcher over the years has gone nine innings without allowing a base hit. But when was the last time you heard of three pitchers combining to do it with the first one failing to even make it through the first batter of the game?

"It was kind of a weird game," admitted Orioles second baseman Jerry Hairston, whose ninth-inning triple represented his team's lone hit in a 7-1 loss to the Texas Rangers.

The announced crowd of 29,248 at Camden Yards almost saw what would have been one of the rarest and wildest pitching feats in the history of the game: a three-man no-hitter shared by Texas right-handers Aaron Myette, Todd Van Poppel and Joaquin Benoit. The strangest part of it all? Myette, the Rangers' starter, was ejected two pitches into his outing, leaving the rest up to his teammates.

For eight truly surreal innings, this relatively obscure and unsuccessful trio of pitchers held Baltimore's batters at bay, allowing only two walks and two hit batters until Hairston opened the ninth against Benoit with a sinking liner to right field.

Texas outfielder Carl Everett made a diving attempt but came up short, and as the ball rolled to the fence, Hairston raced around to third base with the Orioles' first hit of the night. He later scored on Chris Richard's groundout, but Baltimore managed nothing else en route to its 10th straight loss.

"We're playing a little bit for pride," Hairston said. "Obviously, I knew they had a no-hitter going into the ninth inning. I just wanted to have a good at-bat, put the ball in play and hit it hard."

The unusual circumstances surrounding this one conjured up memories of Babe Ruth's fabled near-perfect game in relief on June 23, 1917, in which the baseball legend (then a Boston Red Sox pitcher) entered following a leadoff walk and proceeded to retire the next 27 batters in order.

This time, Myette, a struggling right-hander with an 8.93 ERA, was ejected after only two pitches for intentionally throwing at Orioles leadoff hitter Melvin Mora in apparent retaliation for a previous pitch by Baltimore starter John Stephens.

Stephens' 84-mph fastball at Alex Rodriguez's left shoulder on an 0-2 pitch in the top of the first seemed innocent enough "I was just trying to come in," Stephens said but Myette took it far more seriously.

When Mora stepped to the plate to open the bottom of the inning, Myette immediately whizzed a fastball behind his back. That drew a minimal reaction from the crowd, but seconds later when Myette again threw behind Mora the place was in an uproar.

Home plate umpire Mark Hirschbeck (who had warned both managers before the game that pitchers would be closely monitored) immediately ejected Myette from the game, much to the surprise of the right-hander. Texas manager Jerry Narron argued vehemently with Hirschbeck but was left with no choice but to summon his bullpen far sooner than he imagined possible.

"I pitch inside a lot," said a smiling Myette, who actually will come back to start tonight's game. "Balls get away, and I've never had perfect control."

Narron's first call went to Van Poppel, the former first-round draft pick-turned-bust. After taking as much time as he needed to warm up, the veteran right-hander threw two more balls to Mora to complete Myette's walk, then walked Hairston.

That's the closest the Orioles came to threatening for a long time. Van Poppel struck out the side to finish off the first inning, then struck out two more in the second.

Not accustomed to lengthy outings in his typical middle relief role, Van Poppel (3-1) was pulled before the third in favor of Benoit (who was originally scheduled to start tonight's game).

The Rangers' third pitcher in three innings despite the fact none had given up a hit picked up right where his teammates left off. Benoit retired the first seven batters he faced before hitting Marty Cordova in the fifth. He also plunked Tony Batista to lead off the seventh but made it through the inning with the Orioles still hitless.

And even though he finally gave up a hit in the ninth, Benoit still managed to throw seven innings of one-hit ball. In the process, he earned the longest save in major-league history, surpassing the six-inning effort by former Ranger Horatio Pina in 1972.

"I don't know how that happens, but I'll take it," Benoit said.

The Orioles, meanwhile, were left shaking their collective heads once again. Baltimore, losers of 10 straight for the first time since last September, has allowed opposing teams to carry no-hitters into the sixth inning in three of the last four games.

"These guys show up every day to play," manager Mike Hargrove said. "It doesn't always work. Obviously, it hasn't worked for the last 10 days. But they show up to play every day, and they expect to win. And that's a good first step."

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