No one ever sees a no-hitter coming.
Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series came after failing to last two innings in his previous start. Dwight Gooden threw a no-hitter after returning from a season-long suspension, pitching 11 years past his peak. David Wells claimed perfection, while claiming to be hungover.
Still, Jim Abbott’s no-hitter may rank as the most surprising in Yankees history. At minimum, it remains the most inspiring.
Abbott, who was born without a right hand, was immortalized in pinstripes on Sept. 4, 1993, becoming the first Yankees pitcher in 10 years to throw a no-hitter in a 4-0 win over the Indians in The Bronx.
“I wish I had an incredible vocabulary to describe the elation I felt,” Abbott told MLive.com in 2019. “The disbelief. To see the fans jumping up and down — the noise — to be in the center of all that with your teammates. And to share the moment with Matt Nokes, my catcher. Every sense in your body is at full speed. You’re just taking it all in.”
Abbott, who entered with a 9-11 record in his first of two seasons with the Yankees, was coming off his worst outing of the season. Against the same Cleveland squad, he’d given up seven runs and 10 hits in 3 2/3 innings, prompting Abbott to take a three-mile run as punishment after being pulled.
In the no-hitter, Abbott only recorded three strikeouts, while walking five and throwing 119 pitches. The Yankees, in the midst of their first winning season in five years, entered the day one game back of the reigning World Series champion Blue Jays for first place in the AL East.
“I think no-hitters take a little bit of luck,” Abbott said then. “To be honest, I can hardly tell you the difference, other than a little bit more command on my breaking ball, between this start and the last one.
“I’m thrilled to come out of that last start and pitch a game like this. It makes it doubly nice being in September and being in a pennant race.”
Abbott, a 1988 first round pick out of Michigan, debuted with the Angels without ever appearing in the minors. He finished fifth in the AL Rookie of the Year voting in 1989, then third in the AL Cy Young voting in 1991. Abbott struggled to find the same success after being traded to New York before the 1993 season, but elevated one ordinary afternoon affair into forever.
However, facing a lineup featuring Albert Belle, Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome, Kenny Lofton and Carlos Baerga, Abbott’s historic start nearly became forgettable.
In the seventh inning, Wade Boggs kept the no-hitter intact by diving for a grounder by Belle and completing the throw to first. In the ninth, Lofton felt the wrath of the Yankee Stadium crowd after attempting a bunt, which drifted foul. Felix Fermin followed with a 390-foot drive to left center, snagged by Bernie Williams.
Finally, Abbott induced a Baerga grounder to short, with Randy Velarde firing to Don Mattingly for the final out.
“The last couple of innings, I had these huge goosebumps on my forearms, and the hair on the back of my neck was standing up,” Mattingly told Sports Illustrated in 1993. “Maybe that would have happened with someone else. Maybe I’d have the same feelings. But I think because it was Jim there was a little something extra.”
Abbott last appeared on the mound in 1999, having gone 87-108 with a 4.25 ERA in his career. He now works as a motivational speaker.