How to Pitch a No-Hitter…and Lose

On a warm muggy night in late April 1964, 5,426 baseball fans sat in Colt Stadium to watch the Houston Colt .45’s play the Cincinnati Reds. Ken Johnson was the starting pitcher for the Colts. Little did he know as he was toeing the rubber to make his first pitch of the ball game he would pitch a complete game that evening, not allow a hit, but would lose the game 1-0.

The game was scoreless through 8 innings. And the Reds were hitless. With one out in the 9th inning, Pete Rose bunted and Ken Johnson fielded the ball throwing wildly to first base allowing Rose to go all the way to 2nd base. “I knew Rose was fast and I was going to have to throw quick and I had three fingers wrapped around the ball but no time to change the grip. A halfway decent throw and I had him” said Johnson after the game. Chico Ruiz then hit a ball right back to the mound that hit Johnson in the leg and bounced straight to his third baseman Bob Aspromonte who threw out Ruiz. Rose advanced to third base. So with two outs Ken just needed to coax an out from Vada Pinson to get the no-hit victory. Pinson hit a routine grounder to second baseman Nellie Fox. But Fox bobbled the ball and by the time he recovered his throw was too late to get the speedy Pinson, and Pete Rose scored on the error. Johnson later told a dis-heartened Fox, “It was my fault. I put the runner on or we’d been out of the inning”. Thus the Reds took a 1-0 lead on the unearned run, without the benefit of getting a hit off Johnson. Ken retired Frank Robinson on a fly ball to end the Reds half of the 9th inning. The Colts were unable to rally for a run in the bottom of the 9th and Ken Johnson became the first pitcher in baseball history to pitch a nine inning no-hitter and lose the game. Johnson commented after the game “Say, I guess that will put me in baseball history? What a way to get in the book.” Click here to listen to the live broadcast of the final out of the game.

Ken Johnson had a decent major league pitching career. Although his total won loss record was 91-106, his career ERA was 3.46. Johnson was a major factor in the 1961 Cincinnati Reds successful pennant drive. Joining the Reds in July of that year, Ken went 6-2 with a 3.14 ERA in 15 games down the stretch helping the Reds win the pennant. Johnson threw a fastball, curve, slider and change-up. But it was his knuckle ball that gave opposing batters fits (and catchers too). Pitcher Jim Brosnan, a former teammate and roommate of Ken’s in 1961 had this to say about Ken not long after he joined the Reds. “Johnson warmed up. He looked fairly fast, had a fair slider, and sweated a lot. Wiping his face with his shirt sleeve he signaled Zimmerman that he would like to throw a knuckle ball. I can see why they got him now, I said to Henry. That’s a hell of a bug! A good knuckle ball is a pesky pitch to catch, and Zimmerman had trouble stopping it in the bullpen. Johnson took it to the mound, where the Giants had just as much trouble hitting it.”

The above quote was taken from Jim Brosnan’s book “Pennant Race”, a book I highly recommend!

Ken Johnson must of had his pesky knuckle ball that fateful night on April 23, 1964 when he no-hit the Reds. But Pete Rose and the Cincinnati Reds were just a little peskier that evening.

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By the way, I first learned about Ken Johnson losing his no-hitter when I saw it on the back of one of his old baseball cards. Some of those old cards have some cool cartoons and facts about the players on the back of the cards! If you are interested in looking at or purchasing some vintage baseball cards, please checkout my e-store A Home Plate. I add old baseball cards daily!

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