September 18, 1968: Ray Washburn matches Gaylord Perry’s no-hitter

The excitement of Gaylord Perry’s no-hitter against the Cardinals hadn’t worn off yet when Ray Washburn stepped to the Candlestick Park mound on September 18, 1968. As improbably as it seemed that 30-year-old right-hander would match Perry’s accomplishment, trainer Bob Bauman had an inkling.

“When I was working on Washburn just before the game, I told him, ‘You’re going to pitch a no-hitter today because you’re going to get even with those guys,’” Bauman said. “It was as simple as that. Nellie (Nelson) Briles was listening to us and said, ‘Ray will settle for just a victory.’”[1]

By the end of the day, the Giants were happy just to get the ball to the outfield, something they managed just twice against Washburn’s steady supply of slow, looping curveballs.

It had been a remarkable few days for the Cardinals, who clinched the National League championship three days earlier with a 7-4 win over the Houston Astros. Curt Flood had five hits in the win, Lou Brock added three and stole a base, and Roger Maris hit a two-run home run. As the San Francisco Examiner reported, “Large amounts of champagne were consumed on the spot. Then, the Cardinals flew to San Francisco and continued the victory party in a bar on California Street.”[2]

That Tuesday, while Bob Gibson struck out 10 and allowed just four hits – including a first-inning home run by Ron Hunt that produced the 1-0 final score – Perry held the Cardinals hitless, striking out nine while walking two.

Coming on the heels of Perry’s performance, Washburn can be forgiven if he was focused primarily on surviving a Giants lineup led by Bobby Bonds, Willie Mays, and Willie McCovey. In early May, Washburn battled through six innings in taking his first loss of the season.  Rookie Dave Marshall hit a two-run homer and Ty Cline, Jim Davenport, and Mike McCormick each added RBI singles. By the time Washburn left the game, the Cardinals were down 6-0 in what would become an 8-4 Giants win.

“You can have this park,” Washburn said afterwards. “I don’t care if I ever pitch in Candlestick again.”[3]

He felt much better about the ballpark by the time he had finished his no-hitter.

Washburn made his major league debut in 1961, appearing in three games. In 1962, the Cardinals placed him in the rotation, where he won 12 games on the strength of a high-90s fastball and a biting slider. After the season, he was sent to the Florida Instructional League to develop a curveball and changeup.

In 1963, he took a no-hitter into the eighth inning of a 3-0 win against the Dodgers and got off to a 5-0 start, leading the majors in wins and strikeouts. But Washburn tore his triceps, possibly in the win over the Dodgers or in another win over the Cubs in which he took a no-hitter deep into the game.

The injury sapped Washburn of just enough velocity that he could no longer rely on his fastball to get him through games. It wasn’t until 1968 that Washburn perfected the curveball that became his go-to pitch throughout his no-hitter.

“That slow curve has made Washburn a great pitcher this season,” catcher John Edwards said.[4]

Washburn couldn’t help but agree. “The curve has been the secret to my success,” he said. “It helps me keep the batters off stride and has them hitting the ball off the end of the bat and into the ground.”[5]

Washburn needed 138 pitches to complete his no-hit bid as he walked five batters and went to three-ball counts 11 times.

“If I got behind a hitter, I went to the curves, particularly when I realized I had a chance at the no-hitter from the sixth inning on,” he said. “We decided not to give in to any hitter.”[6]

Washburn received a couple of scares in the sixth inning. Giants pitcher Bob Bolin tapped a ground ball down the third-base line that required Washburn to pounce off the mound and throw his counterpart out. In the next at-bat, Bonds hit a hard shot that struck Washburn squarely in the leg.

“It fell right in front of me and I had plenty of time to make the throw,” Washburn said. “That’s the kind of break you need to pitch a no-hitter.”[7]

In the top of the seventh, Mike Shannon got the Cardinals on the scoreboard. With one out, Orlando Cepeda singled to center field and Mike Shannon hit a two-out double into right field to make it 1-0.

The Giants threatened in the bottom half of the seventh when Washburn walked Hunt and McCovey. Both runners advanced when Jim Ray Hart grounded out to second base, but with Joe Hoerner warming up in the Cardinals’ bullpen,[8] Washburn struck out Dick Dietz to end the threat.

In the eighth, the Cardinals made it 2-0. Dick Schofield got things started with a double into left field, and with two outs Flood reached on an infield single that scored Schofield.

With the no-hitter on the line in the ninth, Washburn found himself facing the heart of the Giants’ lineup. He threw his worst pitch of the game to Hunt to lead off the inning. The ball floated up in the zone and Hunt hit it hard, but right to second baseman Phil Gagliano.

“I threw hard to Hunt in the ninth because he’s a pesky type who usually gets his bat on the ball,” Washburn said, “and when I got Hunt out, I felt that I could really go to work on Mays and McCovey.”

Mays grounded sharply to Shannon for the second out, leaving McCovey as Washburn’s final obstacle. By that point, the Candlestick Park crowd was eager to see history and one of the fans seated near home plate shouted, “Strike out, you bum McCovey. Let the kid have his no-hitter.”[9]

Instead, McCovey, who fouled a ball out of the park in the seventh, lined a ball foul down the right-field line before Washburn offered up another slow curveball. McCovey hit an easy fly ball to Flood in center field.

Washburn’s no-hitter was the fifth pitched in the major leagues that season, following Baltimore’s Tom Phoebus, Oakland’s Catfish Hunter, Cincinnati’s George Culver, and Perry. It marked the only time in major league history that no-hitters were thrown in back-to-back games, and was the Cardinals’ first no-hitter since Lon Warneke accomplished the feat against the Cincinnati Reds on August 30, 1941.

After the game, Cardinals general manager Bing Devine announced that Washburn would receive a $3,000 pay raise for the season in recognition of his accomplishment.[10]

Washburn finished the year with a career-best 14-8 record and 2.26 ERA. Facing the Tigers in the World Series, he threw 5 1/3 innings in Game 3 to earn the win in a 7-3 Cardinals victory, but lasted just two innings in a 13-1 Game 6 loss.

Washburn pitched one more season for the Cardinals before he was traded to the Reds for George Culver. He spent one season as a relief pitcher with the Reds before he was released and, after an unsuccessful tryout with the Angels, Washburn retired with a 72-64 career record.

After earning his master’s degree at Seattle University, Washburn became physical education department chair, athletic director, and baseball coach at Bellevue College, a two-year college in Bellevue, Washington. He retired from full-time duties in 2003.[11]

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[1] Neal Russo, “Washburn Heeds Doc’s No-Hitter Order,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 19, 1968: C1.

[2] Prescott Sullivan, “Job for an Asterisk,” San Francisco Examiner, September 19, 1968: Page 51.

[3] James K. McGee, “Curves Produce No Hitter,” San Francisco Examiner, September 19, 1968: Page 51.

[4] Neal Russo, “Washburn Heeds Doc’s No-Hitter Order,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 19, 1968: C1.

[5] Neal Russo, “Washburn Heeds Doc’s No-Hitter Order,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 19, 1968: C1.

[6] James K. McGee, “Curves Produce No Hitter,” San Francisco Examiner, September 19, 1968: Page 56.

[7] Neal Russo, “Washburn Heeds Doc’s No-Hitter Order,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 19, 1968: C4.

[8] James K. McGee, “Curves Produce No Hitter,” San Francisco Examiner, September 19, 1968: Page 56.

[9] Neal Russo, “Washburn Heeds Doc’s No-Hitter Order,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 19, 1968: C4.

[10] Neal Russo, “Washburn Heeds Doc’s No-Hitter Order,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 19, 1968: C1.

[11] Tim Herlich, “Ray Washburn,” Accessed September 27, 2020.

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