The man was at it again. I sat in stunned silence, afraid to let a word slip from my lips. I didn’t want to be the one fan in the whole world to jinx it. After all, the man had been in this position a few times before. Back to back games in 1988 with two outs in the ninth. A near perfect game in 1990 with the same two outs in the ninth. Here he was in Cleveland, about to accomplish what he had failed at three times before. Dave Stieb was about to get Jerry Browne (?) to fly out to Junior Felix in right for the first, and only, no-hitter in the history of the Blue Jays franchise. I was beside myself.
You see in the eighties I was all about Stieb. He was my first and most lasting sporting hero. I didn’t care about his perceived ill temper or the animated talks he had with himself that reminded some of Bill Lee. I cared that he was truly amazing. With a power fastball and a devastating slider he mowed down batters like no one had ever done for the team. He was a winner on a team that was finding its identity. He gave the Blue Jays some swagger and a bit of a nasty streak. It seemed to permeate through the line up with Damaso Garcia, George Bell, Jesse Barfield, Willie Upshaw. Very good players who had that swagger.
Watching Stieb set up hitters with an inside fastball that would cause a bench clearing brawl in baseball these days and then watching the hitter flounder at a mid 80′s slider was true pitching. He didn’t get scared and fed off of rivalry and the competition. And the man rocked a ‘stache better than Magnum PI (look it up in a history of tv book young ‘uns).
I remember watching one of the near no-hitters. The ball hit the mound and made a one in a million bounce right over Manny Lee’s head at second and falling in for a single. Just before I had said to a friend that Stieb was about to throw a no-hitter. Rick, the friend in question, told me I jinxed it by saying the word “no-hitter” and five seconds later that ball was hit. I was mortified I had ruined my hero’s attempt at baseball history.
As the ball hit towards Felix was about to land in the glove I bit my tongue as hard as I could to keep from saying the words until the ball hit leather. No-hitter!! I jumped up and almost smashed my head on the basement ceiling. Seeing the look of pure joy on Dave Stieb’s face as he is mobbed by his teammates is one of those iconic images of my sporting youth.
It is an accomplishment that has yet to be matched in Blue Jays history. It is history that has helped my blood flow blue. Stieb will always be my hero because of that.