Yesterday we looked back at Andy Hawkins' no-hitter that wasn't. As promised, today we'll look back on a more pleasant no-no. Saturday marks the twentysixth anniversary of Dave Righetti's Indepence Day no-hitter against the Red Sox. Since we'll all be off enjoying the holiday weekend on the actual anniversary, we'll revisit the game today.
Righetti was acquired in November of 1978 as part of a ten player trade that saw the Yankees send their former closer, Sparky Lyle, to the Texas Rangers. Rags made his Major League debut as a September call-up in 1979, spent all of 1980 back in AAA, then returned in 1981 to capture the Rookie of the Year award, going 8-4 with a 1.07 WHIP and leading the league in ERA, ERA+, H/9, HR/9, and K/9. In 1982 he fell back to earth a bit, serving a brief stint in the minors and going 11-10 with an ERA just better than league average (105 ERA+). He once again led the AL in K/9, but also led the league in BB.
The July 4, 1983 game fell on a Monday, a blistering 94 degree day, the final day of play before the All-Star break. Righetti would later admit he was steamed at not being selected, and he had a good candidacy, entering his start that day at 9-3 with a 3.53 ERA and a 1.21 WHIP while holding opponents to a .248/.294/.340 batting line.
Righetti fanned Jerry Remy and Wade Boggs to begin the game, then promptly lost the perfecto by walking Jim Rice. He completed the first by whiffing Tony Armas. Rags was perfect in the second, third, and fourth, striking out two in both the second and third. He broke his string of eleven straight batters retired by issuing a one out walk to Reid Nichols in the fifth, but then promptly picked him off attempting to steal.
The Yankees supplied Righetti with some offense in the bottom of the fifth, as an Andre Robertson single scored Steve Kemp for the game's first run. Rags worked a perfect sixth, walked Rice for a second time with one out in the seventh, the erased him on a 6-4-3 double play.
After a 1-2-3 eighth, Righetti walked light-hitting catcher Jeff Newman to lead off the ninth. Newman was replaced by Glenn Hoffman on a fielder's choice, narrowly avoiding a double play. A Remy groundout moved Hoffman to second. With just one out to go, Wade Boggs stepped to the plate. Boggs entered play that day hitting .361, the same mark as his end of season average, which would win the Major League batting crown by a whopping twentytwo points. Righetti caught him looking in the first, then coaxed flyouts to center in the fourth and seventh. After peppering Boggs with fastballs to the run the count to 2-2, Rags came back with a slider. Fooled, Boggs flailed feebly at it, giving Righetti his ninth K and the first Yankee no-hitter since Don Larsen's perfect game in the 1956 World Series.
Righetti finished 1983 at 14-8 with 1.20 WHIP and 3.44 ERA (112 ERA+). Not yet 25 at season's end, Righetti was 33-23 with 117 ERA+ in his young career, projecting as a solid number two starter if not a future ace. But incumbent Yankee closer Goose Gossage departed the team after that 1983 season, and 1984 saw Righetti as the new closer. He would never start another game for the Yankees.
He spent the next seven seasons at the back of the Yankee bullpen, never saving less than 25 games in a season, including a then Major League record 46 in 1986. While Righetti was a good closer, he was never quite great. Because of things like small sample sizes and inherited runners, I prefer to use Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) to evaluate relievers. In three of his first four years as Yankee closer ('84, '85, '87), Righetti was bettered or equaled FIP by other Yankee relievers (Jay Howell, Brian Fisher, and Tim Stoddard respectively).
Meanwhile, the Yankee teams of those years were perpetual bridesmaids and notoriously short on starting pitching. In 1985, the Yankees finished in second place, just two games behind the Blue Jays. Despite posting an ERA better than league average, Yankee starters' FIP was far worse than league average. Righetti on the other hand was 1.25 runs better than the league in FIP. His numbers may have suffered somewhat from the additional exposure of pitching in the rotation, but he assuredly would have performed better than starters like Ed Whitson. We'll never know if his presence in the rotation could have made up those two games.
In 1988, the Yankees finished 3.5 games out of first. Once again, Yankee starters were worse than the league average while Righetti out performed the league by two thirds of a run. Again, there's no telling if Righetti in the rotation would have been enough to make up the 3.5 games and four teams between the Yankees and the division crown, but he certainly would have been a better option than Rick Rhoden, Rich Dotson, or 45 year-old Tommy John.
This weekend you're sure to hear about Righetti's no-hitter. You're also likely to hear the old Joba-to-the-bullpen argument or the newer and now more-popular Hughes to the eighth inning argument. When you do, think back to what it may have cost the Yankees the last time they relegated a potential front end starter to the back end of the pen.