PITTSBURGH -Francisco Cordova and Ricardo Rincon had never heard of Harvey Haddix. They know all about him now.
For the rest of their careers - really, the rest of their lives - the three will be inexorably linked as the authors not only of the best-pitched games in Pittsburgh Pirates' history, but two of the best ever in baseball.
Cordova and Rincon, who between them have less than two years' experience in the majors, pitched the first combined extra-innings no-hitter in major league history - a 3-0 victory in 10 innings over the Houston Astros on Saturday night.
It was the first extra-inning no-hitter in the majors since Jim Maloney pitched 10 hitless innings at Chicago on Aug. 19, 1965.
The right-handed Cordova, who looked unhittable nearly from the start and proved to be exactly that, struck out 10 in nine innings but was lifted, and not necessarily with his assent, after throwing 121 pitches.
The left-handed Rincon, Cordova's closest friend on the team and former teammate with the Mexico City Reds, who, like Cordova, arrived in the majors as a non-roster player, came on for a hitless 10th inning.
For Cordova, it was no runs, no hits and nothing even close to one - and, ultimately, no decision. Rincon (3-4) got the victory when reserve outfielder Mark Smith hit a three-run pinch-hit homer in the 10th off John Hudek (0-1).
"I wanted to keep going on," said Cordova, who gave up only one well-hit ball, Ricky Gutierrez's line-drive foul to start the ninth. "But it wasn't my decision."
It wasn't necessarily a popular one with the fireworks-night overflow crowd of 44,119, the Pirates' first non-opening day sellout in 20 years, but it proved to be the right one.
Manager Gene Lamont didn't want Cordova throwing 140-150 pitches on a steamy night with half a season to play. Also, the switch gave the already frustrated Astros, who have only three hits in 23 innings off Cordova in his three starts against them, a different and just as difficult-to-hit look.
"We are good friends," said Rincon, speaking through interpreter Esteban Loaiza, another of the Pirates' trio of Mexican pitchers known as the Three Amigos. "I knew he (Cordova) had a no-hitter. I didn't want to come in and ruin it for him. I did my best."
And Cordova finally got around to admitting, "I was tired,"
In the Houston dugout, some felt Cordova (6-5, 2.61 ERA) actually pitched better while limiting them to two hits in a 6-0 Pirates' victory in the Astrodome on June 23. Cordova also permitted only one hit in five innings in his first career start, coincidentally against Houston, on Aug. 31, 1996.
"Cordova should have been in the All-Star game," Astros catcher Brad Ausmus said. "We were joking in the dugout that he threw 121 pitches and every one was different."
Cordova learned his craft, notably his ability to mix his pitches, from father Ernesto, one of the best pitchers in Mexican League history. The elder Cordova won 141 games but, unlike his son, not one was a no-hitter.
Still, if it hadn't been for Smith, a pickup in a barely noticed trade late in spring training, Cordova might have experienced the same tough fate as Haddix did on his magical night in Milwaukee on May 26, 1959. He might have lost.
Smith, forewarned by hitting coach Lloyd McClendon that Hudek likes to get ahead in the count by throwing inside fastballs, hit a drive off the facade of the third-level seats in left field for a homer that, outside postseason play, arguably couldn't have been more dramatic.
Smith's shot, his third since his recall from the minors, provided the Pirates' first runs of the series following 27 shutout innings. It also ended the longest scoreless no-hitter since Haddix pitched 12 perfect innings only to lose - the perfect game, the no-hitter and the Greatest Game Ever Pitched - in the 13th inning on an overcast night in Milwaukee 38 years ago.
"We never knew about that," Cordova said.
Haddix's game doesn't officially count as a no-hitter one since he ultimately gave up a hit. The Cordova-Rincon combo was only the second no-hitter by the Pirates in Pittsburgh since Nicholas Maddox's in 1907; John Candelaria had the other, on Aug. 8, 1976 against the Dodgers.
"I thought about Haddix," Lamont said of his decision to take out Cordova. "I don't know how many pitches he (Haddix) threw that night, but I had pretty much made up my mind that if Francisco got through nine, that was it."
Not quite. There still was one inning of tension and theatrics to go - even if Pirates announcer Lanny Frattare, fearful of jinxing the pitchers, refused to tell his listeners a no-hitter was in progress.
"I guess they'll be talking about this for a while, won't they?" Pirates catcher Jason Kendall said.
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