September 3, 2001: Rookie Bud Smith throws a no-hitter

Prior to his September 3, 2001, start against the Padres, the 11th of his major league career, Bud Smith already had experience throwing no-hitters. As a high school junior, he had thrown one. He had even thrown two the previous season while pitching for the Cardinals’ Double-A affiliate in Arkansas, though admittedly both of those were seven-inning affairs.

Nonetheless, when Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan saw Smith’s pitch count reach 70 through five innings, he doubted that his rookie left-hander had enough remaining to get through the rest of the game unscathed.

“I was almost rooting for him to give up a hit so we could get him out of there,” Duncan admitted after the game.[1]

Despite Duncan’s doubts, the graduate of St. John Bosco High School in Bellflower, California, approximately 110 miles north of San Diego, completed the feat in front of 40 friends and family members[2], including his mother.[3] It took 134 pitches.

“I didn’t start thinking about it until the seventh inning when I started getting a little fatigued,” Smith said. “Then I realized I had to finish on adrenaline.”[4]

Smith pitched with a lead the entire way. Cardinals second baseman Fernando Viña led off the top of the first with a single into right field, and with two outs Albert Pujols homered to left to make it 2-0.

In the fifth inning, Placido Polanco made it 3-0 when he singled up the middle. On a full count to J.D. Drew, Polanco took off for second, swiping the bag as Drew struck out. Padres catcher Ben Davis’s throw bounced off Polanco’s foot went into the left field gap, allowing Polanco to score when left fielder Rickey Henderson couldn’t pick up the ball.

As the game went on, rather than avoiding Smith, Cardinals first baseman Mark McGwire sat beside the 21-year-old and discussed hitting. Smith said that McGwire was annoyed by a defensive shift the Padres made that had stolen a hit from him earlier in the game. Smith, who finished his major league career with seven hits, helpfully advised McGwire to hit it where there weren’t defenders.[5]

“I wasn’t even thinking about pitching,” Smith said. “Whatever he was doing worked.”[6]

As Smith grew fatigued, he relied on the Cardinals’ defense for support. In the sixth, Drew tracked down a foul ball off the bat of Ryan Klesko, climbing the bullpen mound and reaching into the stands to make the play.

“I had my eyes closed after I went across the mound,” Drew said. “I just stuck my glove out. You’ve got to watch for the mound, you’ve got to watch for the (ball)girl sitting down behind the mound. You never know who’s going to poke you in the eye. I was just making sure I came out with both eyes.”[7]

One inning later, Pujols went to the warning track in left field to catch a fly ball off the bat of Bubba Trammell.

“That ball was the biggest scare of the night,” Smith said. “I thought the only chance I had was if Albert jumped and robbed him.”[8]

Polanco added an insurance run for the Cardinals in the seventh. Viña drew a two-out walk and Polanco doubled into the left-field gap, scoring Viña from first.

In the eighth, shortstop Edgar Renteria, who already made a nice play on a line drive off the bat of D’Angelo Jimenez in the third inning, was perfectly positioned for a ground ball up the middle by Tony Gwynn, who came to the plate as a pinch hitter.

“To be honest, when Mr. Gwynn opted to pinch hit, I said to myself, ‘I didn’t go over his report’ because I didn’t expect to see him, being a lefty and all,” Smith said. “Wow. San Diego would have loved to see him break up a no-hitter. Tony Gwynn can hit everything in and out, so I said, ‘I’m going to just throw it down the middle and see what he can do with it.’ Luckily, he hit it right at somebody.”[9]

With Gwynn retired, Smith got Wiki Gonzalez out on a ground ball, leaving him just three outs away from history.

“I was almost shaking, knowing I had to get three outs to get a no-hitter,” Smith said.[10]

The left-hander led off the ninth inning by getting Henderson – who already had walked twice – to ground out to Renteria at shortstop. He then walked Jimenez, his fourth free pass of the game. With Jimenez on second base due to defensive indifference, Renteria made a back-handed stop in the ninth to throw out Klesko. Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said he considered taking Smith out of the game if he walked Klesko after falling behind in the count 3-0.[11]

“If (Klesko) was going to get a base hit, he was going to have to hit it behind second base,” Renteria said. “I got lucky he hit the ball where I was. That was a hard play to make, but I’m happy for that kid. I think he deserves it.”[12]

The game ended when Phil Nevin hit a bouncer back to Smith, who tossed the ball underhand to McGwire at first to complete the standout game of his career.

 

It was a much better result than Smith’s previous start, when the Padres had touched him up for seven runs – five earned – in 3 1/3 innings on their way to a 16-14 win. Smith had allowed 14 runs in his previous 14 innings, but the Padres saw a different pitcher this time around.

“His ball has a little movement on it,” Klesko said. “He has a good changeup. He kept a lot of right-handed batters off balance with it.

“You have to give him credit. We beat up on him pretty good last time.”[13]

Smith’s no-hitter was the ninth in Cardinals’ history and the first since another rookie, Jose Jimenez, no-hit the Diamondbacks on June 25, 1999.

Smith’s no-hitter marked the second time that season the Padres had been no-hit – the Marlins’ A.J. Burnett accomplished the feat in May.

“It’s not a lot of fun when you get no-hit,” Bochy said. “(Smith) wasn’t what we saw in St. Louis. Today he was a different pitcher. Great command, good changeup and curveball.”[14]

The win improved Smith to 4-2 on the season. He finished with a 6-3 record and 3.83 ERA, but the Cardinals had concerns about Smith’s size and stamina and shopped him around to prospective trade partners during the offseason.[15]

 In 2002, Smith struggled with his mechanics, posting a 1-5 record with a 6.94 ERA in 48 major-league innings. He was optioned to the minors three times that season before the Cardinals traded him, Polanco, and Mike Timlin to the Phillies for Scott Rolen on July 30, 2002.

Smith never appeared in the majors for the Phillies. He pitched in their minor-league system through 2004, then signed as a minor-league free agent with the Twins’ Triple-A affiliate in Rochester in 2005. He finished his professional career by pitching two seasons with the Long Beach Armada of the independent Golden Baseball League in 2006 and 2007.

Smith is now an area scout for the Toronto Blue Jays based out of Lakewood, California.[16]


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[1] Rick Hummel, “No fuss, no muss, no hits,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 4, 2001: D7.

[2] Rick Hummel, “No fuss, no muss, no hits,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 4, 2001: D7.

[3] John Maffei, “This Bud makes two,” North County Times, September 4, 2001: C1.

[4] John Maffei, “This Bud makes two,” North County Times, September 4, 2001: C2.

[5] Rick Hummel, “Homecoming for Smith turns into one big party,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 5, 2001: D5.

[6] Rick Hummel, “Homecoming for Smith turns into one big party,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 5, 2001: D5.

[7] Rick Hummel. “Renteria makes key plays to benefit Smith,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 4, 2001: D7.

[8] Rick Hummel, “Homecoming for Smith turns into one big party,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 5, 2001: D5.

[9] John Maffei, “This Bud makes two,” North County Times, September 4, 2001: C2.

[10] John Maffei, “This Bud makes two,” North County Times, September 4, 2001: C1.

[11] Rick Hummel, “Homecoming for Smith turns into one big party,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 5, 2001: D1.

[12] Rick Hummel. “Renteria makes key plays to benefit Smith,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 4, 2001: D7.

[13] John Maffei, “This Bud makes two,” North County Times, September 4, 2001: C2.

[14] John Maffei, “This Bud makes two,” North County Times, September 4, 2001: C2.

[15] Joe Strauss, “Cardinals snatch Rolen,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 30, 2002: E1.

[16] Toronto Blue Jays Front Office Directory, https://www.mlb.com/bluejays/team/front-office-directory. Accessed September 6, 2020.

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