rick hummel had a nice piece about bob forsch in the p-d this weekend. referenced forsch's two no-hitters, the only two ever thrown at busch stadium. i saw the first one on chilly april 16 1978, sitting in the 1st-base field boxes with my pal scott calhoun and his father. i was 15. it was a miserable day, see-your-breath weather, the sky the same pale grey as my sneaker soles. it was so cold that i found it necessary to keep my left hand, which had a complaint of some sort, tucked in my jacket pocket the entire game to protect it from the raw weather. this made it difficult for me, a left-hander, to fulfill an essential part of the baseball-watching ritual, viz. keeping a scorecard. but at 15 certain problems solve themselves; i kept score right-handed. here's the scorecard, in its illegible glory -- click on the image for a close-up:
it was really a one-hitter, make no mistake about it; gary maddox singled past ken reitz leading off the 8th inning, but neal russo contrived to charge reitz with an error and so a no-hitter it was deemed. here's a link to the box score and play-by-play at retrosheet.
hummel's piece accurately characterized forsch's career strengths as longevity and consistency. but it missed the immense promise forsch seemed to have at the time of that 1st no-no. he had won 20 games the previous season and entered 1978 as the rough equivalent of matt morris ca. 2002 -- an ace in the making. his career record stood at 50-31, a .617 winning pct -- the 8th best mark in mlb since entering the league in mid-1974.
forsch won his first two starts of 1978; the no-hitter left him 3-0 with a 0.71 era. in his next start, a full week later, he got tattooed for seven runs in an inning-plus (used to be a common superstition that a guy will always get bombed after throwing a no-no; nobody talks about that one anymore); but he rebounded nicely and threw two complete-game shutouts in early may (on the 2d and the 11th). by the end of the month he stood 6-3 with the nl's 3d-best era, 2.28 era; he was yielding just 6.2 hits per 9 innings, second among nl pitchers to jr richard. forsch was tied for the league lead in wins, 1st in sho, 2d in cg -- he seemed headed for a second-consecutive 20-win season and possible cy young consideration.
this point represents the peak of bob forsch's effectiveness as a pitcher; from then on it was a gradual, rolling downhill coast. but that explains his longevity: forsch's peak was high enough that it took a long time before he finally reached the bottom. just how good was he? forsch ended the 1977 season on a 12-3 run and continued his hot pitching through the first two months of 1978 -- nearly a full season's worth of games. over that period, which includes forsch's first no-hitter, here are the major-league era leaders (numbers courtesy of david pinto's day-by-day database):
- ron guidry: 2.47, 18-4
- jim palmer, 2.48, 18-8
- steve carlton, 2.49, 19-12
- tommy john, 2.49, 19-5
- bob forsch, 2.54, 19-6
over the same span, here are the leaders in hits per 9 innings:
- nolan ryan, 5.8
- jr richard, 6.4
- ron guidry, 7.3
- bob forsch, 7.3
- steve carlton, 7.4
not freakin' shabby. dare i say carpenteresque. but two things helped nudge forschie's career down the slope. first, he didn't strike anybody out -- just 4.2 per 9 innings during the peak period described above -- and it eventually caught up to him. textbook case. second, and perhaps more pertinent, forsch's arm wasn't strong enough to sustain an ace's workload. in his first 8 starts of 1978, he threw 5 complete games -- 4 of them on only three days' rest. by the end of may he was outta gas; from june 1 through the end of 1978 (22 starts) forsch went 4-14 with a 4.39 era. and he continued to stink through the all-star break of 1979. let's take a look at that span, all-star '78 through all-star '79; again per pinto's day-by-day thing, here are the worst era figures in mlb:
- matt keough, 5.11, 2-21
- mike paxton, 4.94, 12-11
- bob forsch, 4.84, 5-18
- rich gale, 4.63, 11-13
- vida blue, 4.58, 14-14
back in those innocent and low-scoring days, 4.84 was well below replacement level. forsch sucked that badly for 33 starts and 212 innings. and then? . . . . . wouldn't you know, he turned it back around and had a 2.34 2d-half era, 4th-best in the majors after the '79 all-star break.
more than a tad reminiscent of the famously hot-and-cold matt morris, no?
one other anecdote about forsch, and then i'll shut up. i was living in the bay area in 1987 when the cardinals played the giants in the nlcs. this was the series of jeffrey leonard's famous "one-flap-down" home-run trot, which so irritated whitey's boys. i attended all three games at candlestick, the first of which -- game 3 -- found the cards trailing 4-0 after four. three of the giants' runs came on a dinger by leonard, his third in three games. forsch, now well along into geezerdom, relieved joe magrane to start the fifth inning; he retired his first man and yielded a single to kevin mitchell to bring leonard to the plate. fresh off his 3-run jack, leonard dug in, and forsch ricocheted the first pitch off his shoulder. ol' penitentiary face tried to stare him down, but forschie turned his back on the plate and impassively rubbed up a new baseball. classic stuff. next batter he induced a double-play grounder, but herr dropped the toss from ozzie and ev'ybody was safe; sacks jammed w 1 out. but forsch got chili davis to pop out to ozzie and will clark to fly out to right, and the score stayed 4-0.
in the sixth jim lindeman got stl on the board with a two-run homer, and in the 7th (with forsch still the pitcher of record) the cards staged a quintessential 1980s-style rally: single, single, single, stolen base, single, bunt single, sacrifice, sac fly. four runs, five hits, and a 6-4 lead. i thought it was the pivotal game in the series, which the cardinals won 4 games to 3; and forsch's plunking of leonard was pivotal too. he did homer the following day but otherwise managed just three meaningless singles.