He had just thrown a magnificent no-hitter -- all no-hitters are magnificent -- but this was one in which the pitcher mastered them completely. And he had lost, 1-0.
Johnson ices his shin
after Ruiz' liner struck
him in the 9th.
(c) Houston Astros
When a team is going bad, you hear guys say, "You got to pitch a no-hitter to win on this team." Well, here was Johnson pitching that no-hitter -- and still losing.
There was Nelson Fox, who committed the fatal error in the ninth inning, sitting in dark despair in front of his locker. If he wasn't a tough little guy, he would have been crying. It's easy not to cry when you don't care. But it wasn't hard to tell that Foxy, as the boys call him, cared a great deal.
"Look," said Ken Johnson, obviously the happiest man in the room, "I just pitched the best game of baseball I ever pitched in my whole life -- how could I possibly be unhappy?"
"Oh, I would have liked to have won," he admitted. "I guess I could say I would rather give up 12 hits and win than pitch a --" and then he stopped in mid-sentence. Johnson believes in honesty, and he realized what he was saying wasn't so. "No, that isn't true," he said. "You'd have to want to pitch a no-hitter. If the Good Lord takes me tomorrow, I would still have pitched a no-hitter."
In the stadium press room later, pitching coach Cot Deal said, "That Kenny has a wonderful philosophy - he is a fine man. And when have you seen such a job of real scientific pitching as he did tonight?"
"As for that philosophy," said sales manager Kemper Kaiser, "he would have to have one or he would have a dozen ulcers with what he has gone through."
Ticket manager Dick McDowell looked up the statistic that Johnson's loss Thursday night was the 12th time since he has been a Colt that Houston hsa failed to score a single run for him.
Not Many Around
"Do you know last season when we had so much trouble with pitchers -- everybody was sick or hurt or had a sore arm -- and we were starting anybody we could?" manager Harry Craft began. "And Johnson would volunteer to pitch out of turn and to pitch in relief. He said, 'I'll give you everything I've got'. And I'll tell you something, you appreciate that kind of player -- you can't get too many of that kind."
Of Johnson's effort Thursday night, Craft said, "That's what you would call professional pitching; it is a real pleasure to see somebody work on the hitters like he did."
Johnson had only a 7-16 record with Houston in 1962, altough his earned run average was a respectable 3.84. Last season he was 11-17 with a fine 2.65 earned run mark.
This caused him to be referred to at times as a "hard luck pitcher," a reference he hated. A mild-mannered, religious man, Johnson would get a little angry at its use. He thought that by saying it, an atmosphere that nurtures hard luck might be created.
Actually, to reach that 11-win mark last season, Johnson had to win his last five games. He won the first two games claimed by the Colts this season which gave him a seven-game win streak going into the fateful no-hitter.
Johnson was bought from St. Louis for $75,000 in the player pool when Houston entered the National League. He had just been traded to St. Louis from Cincinnati, where he had a 6-2 season on the 1961 pennant winner.
Johnson, 30, lives at West Palm Beach, Fla., in the winter. He has two sons.
A church-going, family man, Johnson is one of the most serious minded players on the team. A bottle of beer after a game is about the limit of his indulgence and if manager Craft ever slaps a fine on a player for breaking curfew, Johnson would be about the least likely victim.