Baseball is starting! Well, maybe. I’ll believe it when a pitch is officially thrown on Opening Day. In any case, just because baseball is supposed to start doesn’t mean there is any new information to write about really. So I’ll continue with my previous plan to talk about what happened on this date, 21-years-ago. That’s right folks. Jose Jimenez’s no hitter can now legally drink.
The Teams (St. Louis Cardinals @ Arizona Diamondbacks)
The 1999 Diamondbacks would ultimately win 100 games, but lose in the NLDS to a worse Mets team. And their pythagorean W-L record was 2 wins better, so they were legitimately a powerhouse team in just their second year of existence. This team was pretty much the definition of a stars and scrubs team, with six players with 4+ bWAR and everyone else below 2 bWAR. They were led by infielders Jay Bell (4.9 bWAR) and Matt Williams (4.1 bWAR), outfielders Luis Gonzalez (6.4 bWAR) and Steve Finley (4.9 bWR), and starting pitchers Randy Johnson (9.1 bWAR) and Omaar Daal (4.6 bWAR). Daal also picked up 0.5 bWAR from his hitting. I have literally never heard of this guy before in my life.
The Cardinals meanwhile were bad. They went 75-86, placing 4th in the NL Central. The Cardinals also only had six players have good years in 1999, but just one of their players had over 4+ bWAR (Mark McGwire) and their 10th best player was a 19-year-old Rick Ankiel who pitched 33 innings. The DBacks lesser players still provided value while barely anyone provided value besides the top six players, who were nowhere near good enough to overcome the vacuum of talent besides them.
I’m sure on the night of June 25th, Cardinals fans didn’t really think there was much chance of a win. Because the Diamondbacks starting pitcher was Randy Johnson at the peak of his powers. All four of their 4+ bWAR hitters were also starting. The Diamondbacks won 100 games and the Cardinals were getting the absolute best A team unit on June 25th.
The Cardinals were not sending out the A team. The 1999 squad had two pitchers with 3+ bWAR: Kent Bottenfield and Darren Oliver. A player we associate with a trade and a player we associate with losing to the Cardinals in the World Series. Neither pitcher was pitching that night. Also not playing: Ray Lankford, J.D. Drew, and Fernando Tatis. It was basically Mark McGwire, a not good yet Edgar Renteria, and a bunch of guys you may not even have heard of. Like for instance, I don’t know who David Howard is. Or Alberto Castillo. Or Thomas Howard.
The entire game is on Youtube and commentary is provided by the Diamondbacks team. The Keys to the Game are to build off the win last night. The Diamondbacks won Game 1 of the 4-game series. The teams would ultimately split. The second key was “Who Are These Guys?” for the Cardinals noting that the only recognizable names were McGwire and Eric Davis, who at that point was 39-years-old. Good start. Last key was Big Unit versus Big Mac, which yeah I’d say the only good hitter on the team would be one place to start for a key.
“Bank One Ballpark, We’re ready for baseball.” awkwardly long pause “The Big Unit, there you see him.” Thanks Joe Garagiola Sr. Leading off is Joe McEwing, who was the 8th best player on the team with 1.5 bWAR. Placed 5th in Rookie of the Year voting and was on a 16 game hitting streak at the time. I wonder if it will go to 17 games.
Not yet at least. McEwing hits a blooper to right field, which is caught by Tony Womack, who nearly overruns the ball and barely catches it. Not hard for me to believe this was the only year he played regularly in the outfield based off this catch, although apparently he was an above fielder in the extremely limited sample. Randy gave up 7 runs in his last start, so there is hope for a Cardinals win.
Next up: Darren Bragg, who I actually do remember. He gets thrown a slider out of the zone on 1-0 which he chases, and then Randy does nothing but throw him sliders out of the zone. At 2-2, he grounds out on what I think was another slider - definitely looked low - but the camera angle was annoying behind the catcher and there was no replay.
Now up: McGwire. They mention his exhibition at batting practice. McGwire is batting .241 with 2 homers in 29 at-bats against Johnson, which surely includes a few walks, but which aren’t mentioned here. McGwire lines a foul ball to the backstop and then unceremoniously grounds out to short. 11 pitches for Randy.
Jose Jimenez to this point in the season, using the stats the Dbacks broadcast is giving me: 14 starts, 3-7, 6.69 ERA. I don’t think I’m going to need to pull out the advanced stats on this one. Broadcast notes he’s a sinkerballer, who is tough to hit when he keeps the ball down. Foreshadowing? Maybe!
He throws three straight sinkers to Womack. None of them are down. I think I know what Jimenez’s problem likely was. Womack lines out to left field. Jay Bell takes a nicely placed slider on the outside corner for strike one and then pops up a 92 mph fastball to McEwing for Out #2. Jesus Luis Gonzales is batting .373 right now. Starts him off with the best sinker of the night, which Gonzalez thinks might hit him at first and then falls into the inside corner. Another annoying behind the catcher angle, but I’m pretty sure it was another sinker that fooled Gonzalez. He strikes out on a fastball high. Just 8 pitches for Jimenez.
We cut to the game with Johnson throwing Strike 2 on the inside corner to Eric Davis. This broadcast might annoy me. Angles where I can’t see where the pitches are and missing pitches in a return to commercial break. Davis strikes out an absolutely filthy slider. Thomas Howard swings and misses on two sliders, takes two fastballs out of the zone, and strikes out looking on a third fastball THAT I CAN’T SEE WHERE IT IS BECAUSE THE CAMERA WENT BEHIND THE CATCHER AGAIN. Looks like a ball on the replay, but pretty close. Edgar Renteria can’t catch up to two 100 mph fastballs, barely makes contact with a slider nearly in the dirt, fouls off another slider, fouls off another fastball, and finally strikes out on a 101 mph fastball. Another behind the catcher view for the strikeout. STOP IT. 27 pitches for Johnson after he strikes out the side.
While the announcers answer the fan question of what a Texas Leaguer is, Jimenez throws three straight sliders to Williams, the last one of which he grounds out to David Howard. Very easy, very basic play. He somehow throws it REAL short and McGwire has to catch it on a bounce. The announcers joke that he threw a sinker and he should be on the mound. This is an impressively bad throw. Jimenez walks Steve Finley, although on 1-1, he had a fastball that I think fooled the ump and was a strike, but was called high. Ball 4 the catcher completely misses as they apparently weren’t on the same page about what Jimenez was throwing. On 1-0 to Travis Lee, he throws a change that catches too much of the plate, and he lines it down the 1st ball line. Except McGwire was holding the runner, so he’s there to field it, touch first and a short rundown later, we have a double play ball to end the inning. 18 pitches for Jimenez.
Before Ball 1 is thrown to Castillo, the camera pans to 48-year-old Walt Jocketty, who definitely looks older than 48. Castillo strikes out looking on a 99 mph fastball, with him starting, but not finishing his swing. David Howard then looks at four pitches, three of them being strikes. Announcers say he needs just 4 strikeouts to break Diamondback strikeout record of 164. It’s June. The streak of five straight strikeouts is broken by the pitcher, Jimenez, who manages to ground out on 0-2. 38 pitches for Randy
Jimenez is absolutely filthy to Damian Miller, throwing two well-placed sliders, one of which hit the outside corner. Then he jammed him with a sinker to make it 1-2. And then a fantastic sinker that dropped off the table. After fooling the next hitter with a change, he hits him on the leg, bringing up Johnson. Johnson tries to bunt, but next thing he knows it’s 1-2. Jimenez throws two balls, Johnson hits a slow grounder back to Jimenez that functions as a bunt. Womack up now, Jimenez throws back-to-back killer sinkers, and after a high fastball, a changeup in the dirt that Womack chases. You could see him being death on lefties with his sinker and change working well. 34 pitches for Jimenez
Sammy Sosa leads NL in HRs with 26. He would end up hitting 63 in one of his three 60 HR seasons. McEwing, after taking a ball, keeps his hitting streak alive with a double down the line. Bragg, a lefty, shows bunt, and after taking both a ball a strike, bunts it too hard to Johnson. Johnson doesn’t push his luck and goes to first though, but he could have thrown out McEwing at third easily. Johnson appears to be pitching around McGwire, but on 3-1, he gets a generous strike call on the outside corner and then throws a ball on the inside corner and gets that call too for strike 3. The inside call was a strike though. Davis, who is currently 0 for 7 career against Johnson with 6 Ks, has some sort of victory by making contact, but it’s a slow chopper to 1B, ending the inning. 52 pitches for Johnson
At this point, half of Jimenez’s pitches are nasty and the other half seem to fool the hitters with the pitch selection. Jay Bell’s PA to start off the 4th is a great example. Jimenez gets ahead with a great sinker, and then he gets away with a not great fastball, but Bell was overeager and was way ahead of it. Then a not particularly well-located slider that fools Bell, who was ahead of the previous fastball, so pitch selection got the strikeout. He again sort of gets away with a change that is high and outside, but Gonzalez pops out to the catcher for Out #2. The sinker-slider combo works wonders against Williams. The book on Williams had to be to throw sliders cause dude gets fooled every time by them. He finishes him off with a killer sinker low and inside. 44 pitches for Jimenez
Johnson, sensing Thomas Howard is no threat, just throws fastballs right down the middle to him. He grounds out to second on the second pitch. Renteria takes a tough pitch for ball one, but then lines a double down the left field line. Johnson and his catcher have a miscommunication on the pitch and the ball sneaks by Miller. But Renteria hesitates and is forced to stay at 2nd. Which proved important when Castillo then lined out to Matt Williams, who caught a flat footed Renteria at 2nd base for a double play. If Renteria is at 3rd, he’s not getting that double play. And of course the lineout was filmed BEHIND THE FREAKING CATCHER. It’s like two strikes, better make sure nobody can see shit. 60 pitches for Johnson
Jimenez mostly gets away with not throwing a single good pitch to Finley. He throws a get me over sinker for strike one, two pitches nowhere near the strike zone, and then a high and outside change that Finley weakly grounds out. I can’t imagine the high outside change was a good long-term strategy but it’s sure working here. He looks better against Lee, hitting a pitch perfect location for strike one and a better located change on 2-1 for another slow groundout. Jimenez is death to lefties right now. They look helpless. Miller never really looks comfortable, but makes Jimenez throw eight pitches, for a weak flyout. 60 pitches for Jimenez.
David Howard hits an 86 mph something deep down the left field line for a leadoff double. I say something because the pitch didn’t do anything at all, and Howard was ready for it. I guess it was a change? I mean this thing was straight as an arrow. Jimenez fails to bunt the runner over, with two fouls and then just straight up missing the third pitch. Looks like David Eckstein took notes on Joe McEwing’s spastic, always moving batting stance. He strikes McEwing out, which officially sets the new record for strikeouts in a season with 165 strikeouts before July is on the calendar. He throws three straight fastballs to Bragg, who looks at the third one for strike three. Another runner stranded in scoring position. 72 pitches for Johnson
Jimenez throws two pretty great pitches to start off Andy Fox, but they’d be better on 0-2 so Fox laid them off easily. Falling behind 2-0, he then threw two pitches that caught too much of the plate. The first was taken, the second was a line drive that required a diving catch from Eric Davis for out #1. It was a good play, but you get the feeling a 30-year-old Eric Davis could catch it running. Johnson then hits a ball into shallow center that Bragg is able to reach just barely. Then a rocket right to Renteria. Starting to feel like luck is on Jimenez’s side that I think I would have bought into the no hitter at the time (I have no memory of this game). 67 pitches for Jimenez
First pitch flyout to right by McGwire. They then show clips of McGwire in batting practice. That must have been literally the only thing interesting about the Cards at the time. Davis is absolutely helpless, striking out again on a pitch that went 58 feet for out #2. Surprised he batted #4 with Tony’s belief in pitcher-batter matchups. Thomas Howard, on 1-1, lines out to center. 80 pitches for Johnson
Jimenez throws two straight pitches that seem to break at the very last moment, which cause Jay Bell to barely foul it off, and then looks at another pitch that does something similar for strike three. Good framing again here, as I’m not positive it was a strike. Castillo is very animated behind the plate right now. He steals the first strike on the outside corner, but Gonzalez is walked on five pitches anyway. Poor Matt Williams just has no idea what to do against Jimenez. He can’t handle the slider, and probably expecting that at this point, he’s riddled with sinkers here. On 2-2, he hits into a double play ball. 79 pitches for Jimenez
Renteria goes down swinging on an absolutely ridiculous slider that hits the dirt. Johnson’s slider was insanely unhittable. I don’t actually think anyone has managed to make contact off it this game. Castillo lines a single to right field on 1-2. It was actually a ball, but he went with the ball. David Howard hit a slow roller just slow enough that he beat out the double play ball, but of course that brings up the pitcher. He proves as inept a hitter as he is a bunter, although Randy Johnson, so can’t really blame him. 96 pitches for Johnson
Finley swings at the first pitch - and as a sinkerballer, it’s a pitch you want batters to swing at. He pounds the ball directly into the ground. The broadcast shows the replay of a routine grounder too much, and we only catch the ball being caught by the catcher for ball one. God I hate this broadcast. He hits a hard grounder for Out #2. Somebody runs onto the field, which the crowd cheers. Which normally wouldn’t bother me, but it’s 0-0 and a no hitter is happening! Like boo that shit guys. If you’re gonna run onto the field, make sure it’s 6-2 or something. Instead of being deterred by the long delay, Jimenez throws two straight strikes. He eventually strikes him out. 91 pitches for Jimenez
McEwing fouls off two pitches on 2-2 to stay alive, but then swings at a ball headed towards his legs, and at the end of his swing, instinct took over and he tried to avoid the ball and ended up falling over after the swing. Truly humiliating strikeout. Bragg has absolutely no interest in batting against Johnson, and he’s in luck, because Johnson has spotty control. He walks on six pitches without swinging once. He throws four straight balls to McGwire, none of which were close. He’s now at 113 pitches. Manager visits mound, Randy tells him get the hell out of there, Randy stays in. Davis goes up trying to hit a three-run homer and strikes out for the third time, making him a career 0-10 with 8 Ks now against Johnson. Johnson goes ahead 1-2 on Thomas Howard, but can’t make him chase either of the next two pitches. Howard hits sort of a weak line drive to left field that looks like it’ll be caught! But falls! Bragg scores, but McGwire is thrown out at 3rd, I’m guessing anticipating Gonzalez will throw to home. He doesn’t inning over. 122 pitches for Johnson
Andy Fox looks at two balls, then a perfect inside strike, then ball three. He gets a good pitch to hit, but lines it foul. Then Jimenez throws a pitch perfect change that Fox looks at and starts walking to first, but the umpire calls him out. It’s... questionable, but not egregious. Another good frame by Castillo. A line drive produces another diving catch by Davis, who clearly catches it, but who in celebrating his catch, inadvertently lets the ball slip from his glove. The umpire correctly calls it a clean catch, but Buck Showalter does come out to talk about it. Which for the second inning in a row causes a probably annoying delay for Jimenez. Womack grounds out to 2nd to complete the no hitter!
Every 2 strike pitch seemingly was filmed from the perspective of the catcher and my thoughts on that are kill it, kill it with fire. Don’t even have a camera back there, do not tempt those people. I despise that POV. Jimenez looked good, but not really no hitter good if that makes sense. Man would this game mislead you about the talent and career of Alberto Castillo, who got his first significant PAs that year at 29-years-old. Excellent job framing Jimenez pitches all game, good line drive hit against Randy Johnson.
How did Jimenez get a no hitter? Well obviously, his stuff worked brilliantly at times and when it didn’t, the pitch selection kept the hitters uncomfortable even when it caught too much of the plate. He got some lucky outs, but all no hitters do. Also, with a killer sinker and change when they worked, he seemed especially well-suited to this DBacks lineup, which included five lefties. Jimenez also seemed to completely own Matt Williams. So it almost makes sense that Jimenez did something similar to the Diamondbacks just two starts later, pitching 9 innings of shutout ball with 2 hits in a 1-0 win against Randy Johnson.
Of course, as good as Jimenez pitched, and this isn’t one of those fluky Edwin Jackson no hitters where I’m not actually convinced the pitcher pitched well, Randy Johnson was better. I think we can say that in 2020? I would have been killed for it 1999 maybe. But Johnson struck out 14 batters to 2 walks. The difference? The hard hit balls the Cards hit fell for hits. Yeah there may have been one hard hit out for the Cards? Jimenez meanwhile struck out 7 to 2 walks and hit a guy. Both walks became double play balls, which goes a long way towards making walks not matter. And every hard hit ball found a glove.
(Crazy fact: Randy Johnson was 35-years-old, had 10 more years of his career left, and still had 4 Cy Youngs to win.)
Last point and I’ll end my recap. I went to Memphis as a small child whenever Bud Smith was pitching there. And after the game, I hung around by where the players exited and got autographs on my hat, one of which was Bud Smith. Cut to: 2001 when Bud Smith throws his no hitter. My dad said I better save that hat because it’s going to be valuable. I still have it if anyone wants to buy it.