Johnson tosses no-hitter... and loses
April 23, 1964

A stunning loss in a no-hitter
(c) Houston Astros

Audio    Box Score and Play by Play

Colts' Johnson Loses No-Hitter
by John Wilson, Houston Chronicle

The big, easy-going, 230-pounder was told he had become the first pitcher in the annals of baseball to pitch a nine-inning no-hitter and lose.

Ken Johnson's face broke open with a smile and he said, "Say, I guess that will put me in baseball history? What a way to get in the book."

(c) Houston Astros
The Houston Colt .45s had just managed to lose to the Cincinnati Reds, 1-0, Thursday night in a game that was maddeningly frustrating to the 5426 customers who saw the 30-year-old right-hander in an artful demonstration of pitching skill.

It took a pair of errors in the ninth inning, one of them by Johnson, to get Cincinnati's run. Meanwhile, the Colts were blowing every opportunity they had on the bases, partially because left-hander Joe Nuxhall was doing quite a job of pitching himself.

Eight previous times major league pitchers have toiled nine innings of no-hit ball, only to lose in later innings. In each of those games there were hits in the extra innings, although the pitcher gets credit for a no-hitter, which for record purposes means pitching the regulation distance without giving up a hit.

Only the Colts -- only Johnson -- have ever done it nine innings. Second baseman Nellie Fox botched Vada Pinson's grounder with two out in the ninth inning to let the game's only run cross the plate. Johnson had thrown wildly to first earlier in the inning when he fielded Pete Rose's bunt.

"I'm sorry," Fox said to Johnson as soon as the game ended. The tight-lipped little infielder did not say half a dozen words from then until he finally left the clubhouse, an unlighted cigar clinched in his grim mouth.

"It was my fault," Johnson had told him. "I put the runner on or we'd have been out of the inning."

Later as Fox sat inf front of his locker, staring at his feet, Johnson went over and patted him on the back and said a few words to him.

No Pep Talk
To the interviewers he said, "From the time the game ended, I have been trying to think of something to say to the team to make them feel better, because I know they feel badly about it. But I guess I'm not smart enough because I just can't think of anything that would pep them up."

Johnson's locker is next to that of Don Nottebart, the only other Colt pitcher to throw a no-hitter. And coincidentally, or not, the foes got a run in that one. Nottebart beat Philadelphia, 4-1, last May 17. Johnson and Nottebart are roommates on the road trips.

All Works Well

Ken said about everything was working for him. His knuckler, his fast ball, his curve, his change-up -- the big fellow throws more different pitches, from more different deliveries than almost anybody in baseball.

He praised the receiving of Jerry Grote, the 21-year-old in his second year of professional ball and making his second start of the year.

"I didn't change the call on very many pitches," Johnson said. "I signalled the pitch I wanted a few times but we were mostly together -- he did a real great job."

Knows Importance
Grote, who caught a no-hitter thrown by Cliff Davis at San Antonio last year, agreed that Johnson had good stuff on all his pitches.

"I wasn't nervous," Grote said. "But I was anxious, because I knew how important it was and I knew we weren't getting any runs."

Johnson was aware of the no-hitter all the way. "After the seventh inning I went over and whispered to Nottebart 'what do you do in a situation like this?' and he said 'just stay relaxed'."

After Nuxhall grounded out to open the ninth, Pete Rose laid down a tricky bunt in front of the plate. Johnson was on it like a cat and fired quickly -- he had to if he was going to get the speedy infielder -- to first base.

"It was a perfect sinker, low and away," Johnson said. "Pete (Runnels) couldn't reach it. 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."

Chico Ruiz then slashed the ball back at the mound and it bounced off Johnson's shin and straight to Bob Aspromonte at third. Aspro whipped the ball to first and there were two outs and it looked like Johnson had things going his way, even though Rose now was on third.

Vada Pinson's grounder to Fox was rather routine, and the 16-year major league veteran would have been the man, given a choice, you would have had most confidence in to handle the important out. But, alas, he bobbled it. By the time he picked it up and threw to first, it arrived a step late.

The Colts missed their chances to score, and good ones they were. In the seventh Fox singled and went to third when Chico Cardenas let Pete Runnels' grounder get through.

Double Trouble
With runners on first and third and none out, Johnny Weekly hit to Cardenas, who trapped Fox off third. Fox was run down by third baseman Ruiz, but that wasn't the worst of it. Runnels was put out on the same play trying to get to third.

Jimmy Wynn stretched a blooper to centerfield into a double to open the eighth but that was as far as he went.

Cardenas made a spectacular catch of Wynn's drive in the second inning and doubled Aspromonte off first. Fox had been thrown out stealing in the first. A double play wiped out opes in the fourth.

Gets a Reprieve
And with two outs in the ninth, Runnels drew life when Nuxhall, first, called Runnels out.

But Augie Donatelli, behind the plate, saw that Nuxhall, who was on the ground, had dropped the ball. He signalled for the changed ruling.

It looked like it might be an omen for a dramatic successful closing. But no, Weekly worked the count to 3-2 but Nuxhall zipped over a third strike.

Johnson's shin was bruised and swollen from that lick in the ninth. "We had to get it in the ninth, or that was it, I could not have gone out again," he said.

Ken Takes Defeat Like a Man
by John Wilson, Houston Chronicle

No one could seem to understand why Ken Johnson wasn't pounding his head against the wall and gnashing his teeth.

Johnson ices his shin
after Ruiz' liner struck
him in the 9th.
(c) Houston Astros
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.

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.

Dark Despair
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.

From The AstrosDaily Media Library

Listen to the final out. (Elston, Colts Network)

Box Score and Play by Play
     Game of 4/23/1964 -- Cincinnati at Houston 
     Courtesy of Retrosheet

  Cincinnati         AB  R  H RBI    Houston            AB  R  H RBI  
Rose P, 2b            4  1  0  0   Kasko E, ss           4  0  0  0   
Ruiz C, 3b            4  0  0  0   Fox N, 2b             4  0  2  0   
Pinson V, cf          3  0  0  1   Runnels P, 1b         3  0  1  0   
Keough M, pr-cf       0  0  0  0   Lillis B, pr          0  0  0  0   
Robinson F, rf        4  0  0  0   Weekly J, rf          4  0  0  0   
Johnson D, 1b         3  0  0  0   Aspromonte B, 3b      3  0  1  0   
Skinner B, lf         2  0  0  0   Wynn J, lf            3  0  1  0   
Edwards J, c          3  0  0  0   Beauchamp J, cf       3  0  0  0   
Cardenas L, ss        3  0  0  0   Grote J, c            3  0  0  0   
Nuxhall J, p          3  0  0  0   Johnson K, p          3  0  0  0   
                     -- -- -- --                        -- -- -- --
                     29  1  0  1                        30  0  5  0   

Cincinnati       000 000 001 --  1
Houston          000 000 000 --  0

  Cincinnati           IP  H  R ER BB SO
Nuxhall J (W)         9.0  5  0  0  1  6

  Houston              IP  H  R ER BB SO
Johnson K (L)         9.0  0  1  0  2  9

Game winning RBI -- Pinson V
E -- Cardenas L, Johnson K, Fox N, Johnson D
DP -- Cincinnati 3
LOB -- Cincinnati 3, Houston 4
2B -- Wynn J
CS -- Fox N
T -- 1:56
A -- 5426

Play by Play

Game of Thursday, 4/23/1964 -- Cincinnati Reds at Houston Colt .45s

Starting Lineups:

   Cincinnati                    Houston                       
1. 2b Pete Rose                  ss Eddie Kasko                     
2. 3b Chico Ruiz                 2b Nellie Fox                       
3. cf Vada Pinson                1b Pete Runnels                   
4. rf Frank Robinson             rf Johnny Weekly                    
5. 1b Deron Johnson              3b Bob Aspromonte                
6. lf Bob Skinner                lf Jim Wynn                      
7.  c Johnny Edwards             cf Jim Beauchamp                 
8. ss Leo Cardenas                c Jerry Grote                      
9.  p Joe Nuxhall                 p Ken Johnson                    

REDS 1ST:  P.Rose struck out; C.Ruiz flied to J.Weekly-rf;
V.Pinson walked; F.Robinson was called out on strikes; 0 R, 0 H,
0 E, 1 LOB.  Reds 0, Astros 0.

ASTROS 1ST:  E.Kasko lined to B.Skinner-lf; N.Fox singled to
center field; N.Fox was caught stealing second (J.Edwards-c to
P.Rose-2b); P.Runnels walked; J.Weekly forced P.Runnels
(L.Cardenas-ss to P.Rose-2b) [J.Weekly to first]; 0 R, 1 H, 0 E,
1 LOB.  Reds 0, Astros 0.

REDS 2ND:  D.Johnson grounded out (B.Aspromonte-3b to
P.Runnels-1b); B.Skinner grounded out (K.Johnson-p to
P.Runnels-1b); J.Edwards struck out; 0 R, 0 H, 0 E, 0 LOB.  Reds
0, Astros 0.

ASTROS 2ND:  B.Aspromonte singled to center field; J.Wynn lined
into a double play (L.Cardenas-ss to D.Johnson-1b) [B.Aspromonte
out at first]; J.Beauchamp was called out on strikes; 0 R, 1 H,
0 E, 0 LOB.  Reds 0, Astros 0.

REDS 3RD:  L.Cardenas popped to N.Fox-2b; J.Nuxhall struck out;
P.Rose grounded out (J.Grote-c to P.Runnels-1b); 0 R, 0 H, 0 E,
0 LOB.  Reds 0, Astros 0.

ASTROS 3RD:  J.Grote grounded out (C.Ruiz-3b to D.Johnson-1b);
K.Johnson grounded out (C.Ruiz-3b to D.Johnson-1b); E.Kasko
grounded out (C.Ruiz-3b to D.Johnson-1b); 0 R, 0 H, 0 E, 0 LOB. 
Reds 0, Astros 0.

REDS 4TH:  C.Ruiz grounded out (N.Fox-2b to P.Runnels-1b);
V.Pinson popped to E.Kasko-ss; F.Robinson struck out; 0 R, 0 H,
0 E, 0 LOB.  Reds 0, Astros 0.

ASTROS 4TH:  N.Fox flied to B.Skinner-lf; P.Runnels singled to
center field; J.Weekly grounded into a double play (C.Ruiz-3b to
P.Rose-2b to D.Johnson-1b) [P.Runnels out at second]; 0 R, 1 H,
0 E, 0 LOB.  Reds 0, Astros 0.

REDS 5TH:  D.Johnson struck out; B.Skinner walked; J.Edwards
flied to J.Beauchamp-cf; L.Cardenas struck out; 0 R, 0 H, 0 E, 1
LOB.  Reds 0, Astros 0.

ASTROS 5TH:  B.Aspromonte flied to F.Robinson-rf; J.Wynn was
called out on strikes; J.Beauchamp grounded out (P.Rose-2b to
D.Johnson-1b); 0 R, 0 H, 0 E, 0 LOB.  Reds 0, Astros 0.

REDS 6TH:  J.Nuxhall grounded out (K.Johnson-p to P.Runnels-1b);
P.Rose grounded out (N.Fox-2b to P.Runnels-1b); C.Ruiz was
called out on strikes; 0 R, 0 H, 0 E, 0 LOB.  Reds 0, Astros 0.

ASTROS 6TH:  J.Grote struck out; K.Johnson popped to J.Edwards-c
in foul territory; E.Kasko flied to B.Skinner-lf; 0 R, 0 H, 0 E,
0 LOB.  Reds 0, Astros 0.

REDS 7TH:  V.Pinson grounded out (N.Fox-2b to P.Runnels-1b);
F.Robinson grounded out (B.Aspromonte-3b to P.Runnels-1b);
D.Johnson was called out on strikes; 0 R, 0 H, 0 E, 0 LOB.  Reds
0, Astros 0.

ASTROS 7TH:  N.Fox singled to center field; P.Runnels reached on
an error by L.Cardenas-ss [N.Fox to second, P.Runnels to first];
J.Weekly grounded into a double play (L.Cardenas-ss to C.Ruiz-3b
to L.Cardenas-ss) [N.Fox out at third, P.Runnels out at second,
J.Weekly to first]; B.Aspromonte flied to B.Skinner-lf; 0 R, 1
H, 1 E, 1 LOB.  Reds 0, Astros 0.

REDS 8TH:  B.Skinner grounded out (P.Runnels-1b unassisted);
J.Edwards grounded out (N.Fox-2b to P.Runnels-1b); L.Cardenas
popped to E.Kasko-ss; 0 R, 0 H, 0 E, 0 LOB.  Reds 0, Astros 0.

ASTROS 8TH:  J.Wynn doubled to center field; J.Beauchamp struck
out; J.Grote popped to D.Johnson-1b in foul territory; K.Johnson
flied to B.Skinner-lf; 0 R, 1 H, 0 E, 1 LOB.  Reds 0, Astros 0.

REDS 9TH:  J.Nuxhall grounded out (B.Aspromonte-3b to
P.Runnels-1b); P.Rose reached on an error by K.Johnson-p [P.Rose
to second]; C.Ruiz grounded out (K.Johnson-p to B.Aspromonte-3b
to P.Runnels-1b) [P.Rose to third]; V.Pinson reached on an error
by N.Fox-2b [P.Rose scored, V.Pinson to first]; M.KEOUGH RAN FOR
V.PINSON; F.Robinson flied to J.Wynn-lf; 1 R, 0 H, 2 E, 1 LOB. 
Reds 1, Astros 0.

struck out; N.Fox grounded out (L.Cardenas-ss to D.Johnson-1b);
P.Runnels reached on an error by D.Johnson-1b [P.Runnels to
first]; B.LILLIS RAN FOR P.RUNNELS; J.Weekly was called out on
strikes; 0 R, 0 H, 1 E, 1 LOB.  Reds 1, Astros 0.

Final Totals      R   H   E  LOB
 Reds             1   0   2   3
 Astros           0   5   2   4