Lights Out: Ken Johnson’s No-Hit Loss
When: April 23, 1964
Where: Colt Stadium, Houston, Texas
Game Time: 1:56
The first no-hitter of the 1964 season was also the first no-hitter in major league history to be thrown by the game’s losing pitcher.
Ken Johnson’s no-hitter on April 23, 1964 was the first in major league history to be thrown by the game’s losing pitcher.
Houston starting pitcher Ken Johnson came into the game having won his first two starts of the young season. Johnson had gone 6-2 for the Cincinnati Reds in 1961 before he was selected by the Houston Colt .45s as their twenty-ninth pick in the 1961 expansion draft.
Johnson went 7-16 in Houston’s inaugural season, though he pitched better than his won-loss record indicated: 3.84 ERA with 178 strikeouts in 197 innings. He also pitched five complete games and one shutout.
In the 1964 season, Johnson would go 11-17 despite lowering his ERA to 2.65. He would pitch six complete games this season and, again, a single shutout.
It should have been two shutouts.
The Cincinnati starter was Joe Nuxhall, the left-hander who, in his major league debut on June 10, 1944, set a record as the game’s youngest player at age 15. Nuxhall had struggled through the early 1960s but had embarked on a major comeback season in 1963, when he went 15-8 with a 2.62 ERA. For 1964, he would finish the season at 9-8 with a 4.07 ERA, but he would record four shutouts in an injury-abbreviated campaign.
The first of those shutouts would be needed today.
The winner of three Gold Gloves during his Hall of Fame career, Nellie Fox committed the error that allowed Pete Rose to score, allowing the Reds to beat the Colts 1-0 without getting a hit.
Both Johnson and Nuxhall pitched scoreless ball through the first eight innings. Through those eight innings, Nuxhall scattered five hits and struck out four Houston batters.
Johnson was simply overpowering … and unhittable. Through the first eight innings, he struck out nine Reds batters and walked only two. And after eight innings, the Reds’ line score read zeroes in hits as well as runs.
The shutout ended in the top of the ninth. Nuxhall grounded out to open the inning. Then Pete Rose reached first base on an error by Johnson. His throw into the dirt squirted by first baseman Pete Runnels, allowing Rose to move to second base. Rose went to third on a ground out by Chico Ruiz, and then scored when Houston second baseman Nellie Fox bobbled a ground ball off the bat of Vada Pinson. Pinson was safe at first and the Reds were ahead 1-0 without the benefit of a hit. Frank Robinson flied out to left field to end the inning.
In the bottom of the ninth, Nuxhall struck out leadoff hitter Eddie Kasko and induced Fox to ground out to short. Runnels’ hot grounder to third was mishandled by Ruiz, putting Runnels on first with the tying run. Bob Lillis went into the game to run for Runnels, but to no avail. Nuxhall struck out Johnny Weekly to end the inning and the game.
Ken Johnson was 11-17 for the Houston Colt .45s in 1964 … despite a 2.65 ERA.
Never before had a major league pitcher thrown a complete game no-hitter and lost. But it was the kind of frustration that Ken Johnson would experience in different ways during the 1964 season as a talented pitcher on a second-year expansion team.
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