By 1990, Fernando Valenzuela had seemingly done it all: Rookie of the Year, Cy Young Award, World Series champion, and six All-Star selections. The first three came right away in his rookie year of 1981. He had led the NL in complete games three times, and notched not one, but two of the longest scoreless inning streaks in Dodgers franchise history. His rookie season ignited a cultural sensation that’s still felt almost four whole decades later.
Yet going into a home game against the St. Louis Cardinals on June 29, there was one feat that had somehow eluded him: a no-hitter. Around 30 minutes before he took the mound at 7:35 PM, however, a moment of foreshadowing occurred north of the border in Toronto, Canada. Oakland Athletics ace (and former Dodger teammate of Valenzuela’s) Dave Stewart threw a no-hitter against the Blue Jays.
However, one probably wouldn’t expect Valenzuela to mirror his former teammate. Stewart throwing a no-hitter was almost requisite, as he was one of the eminent aces in the game at the time for one of MLB’s powerhouse teams. His triumph was one of 22 wins in 19990, and Oakland reached the World Series for the third year in a row. Fernando, meanwhile, had taken losses in three of his past six outings, while the Dodgers were hovering around .500 and would ultimately miss the postseason.
The beauty of a no-hitter, however, is that it can happen to any pitcher on any given night, with the right circumstances. It’s why journeymen like Dallas Braden and Philip Humber can claim a slice of immortality with their respective perfect games. Even in a season that was far from his best, “El Toro” would rekindle his decade of dominance with his own no-no.
It wouldn’t come easy. Valenzuela needed 119 pitches and issued three walks, two of which came back-to-back in the top of the 7th to create a one-out RISP situation for St. Louis. But the Mexican ace gutted through each inning, and managed seven strikeouts. The offense gave him enough breathing room, with six runs courtesy of Hubie Brooks, Juan Samuel, Kirk Gibson, and Stan Javier.
It all came down to the 9th, with Vince Coleman, Willie McGee and former Dodger Pedro Guerrero due up. In typically poetic fashion, Vin Scully captured the beauty and high stakes of what the moment represented for Valenzuela’s hallowed career. If you haven’t watched it in awhile, or it was before your time, relive the entire inning right below.
Just make sure you have a sombrero handy.
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