What Was The Best Pitching Performance That Still Resulted In A Loss?

What Was The Best Pitching Performance That Still Resulted In A Loss

Pitching is arguably the most important aspect of baseball. The goal is obviously to score more runs than the opposing team, but if your pitchers perform well, it will be hard for the other team to tally up any runs. Sometimes, however, great pitching is defeated by even greater pitching. Read on to learn about the best pitching performances to come in a losing effort.

Ken Johnson vs. the Reds

On April 23, 1964, Ken Johnson of the Houston Colt .45s (now the Astros) threw a nine-inning no-hitter against the Cincinnati Reds, and lost. His final stat line was 9 IP, 0 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, and 9 K. A very impressive line, to say the least, but his reaction after the game was understandably blunt. He said, “I pitched the best game of my life and still lost.” So how did this happen?

Johnson was having a walk in the park until the top of the 9th, when Pete Rose reached first on an error then advanced to second on a bad throw by Johnson himself. Chico Ruiz was next up in the order, and he grounded out, allowing Rose to move to third. This was a very rough play for Johnson because the ball went off his shin.

Despite the shin hit, Johnson remained in the game to face Vada Pinson, who grounded it to second baseman Nellie Fox. This could have ended the inning, but Fox misplayed it and Rose scored. Johnson got the next batter to fly out, ending the top of the 9th. Pete Runnels of Houston reached base on an error in the bottom of the inning, but he was stranded, and the Reds won 1-0.

Matt Young vs. Cleveland

On April 12, 1992, Matt Young of the Boston Red Sox pitched eight innings in a 2-1 loss to the Cleveland Indians (now Guardians). In the 2-1 loss, he recorded a no-hitter, 2 R, 2 ER, 7 BB, and 6 SO. After the game, Young was not focused on the no-hitter; he was upset his team lost. He said, “A no-hitter's supposed to be where you strike out the last guy and the catcher comes out and jumps in your arms. A loss is a loss.”

In the bottom of the first inning, Young Walked Kenny Lofton, who then stole second base. Later, Glenallen Hill struck out, but Lofton was able to steal third. Carlos Baerga was the next batter, and he reached base on a throwing error by shortstop Luis Rivera, which scored Lofton to give Cleveland a 1-0 lead.

Young walked the first two batters of the third. With runners at first and third, Baerga hit into a fielder’s choice, scoring Mark Lewis. This gave Cleveland a 2-0 lead, and they went on to win 2-1 without having to bat in the ninth. The Red Sox’s only run came in the fourth. Despite throwing a no-hitter, Young destroyed his performance by walking seven batters.

Bob Hendley vs. the Dodgers

On September 9, 1965, Hendley took the mound to face the L.A. Dodgers, who had the legendary Sandy Koufax on the mound. Hendley showed out, only giving up one hit, a double in the seventh, but they would end up losing the game. The only run the Dodgers scored came in the fifth inning as a result of a walk, sacrifice bunt, stolen base, and a throwing error by the catcher.

The bad news for Hendley and the Cubs? Koufax threw a perfect game, and the Dodgers won 1-0. After the game, Hendly said, “This game is the most recognizable thing I've ever done in baseball…and I came out a loser.” Koufax commented on Hendley’s performance with empathy, or condescension, saying, “It's a shame Hendley had to get beaten that way.” Despite having an average career, Hendley pitched extremely well against Koufax.

In their six head-to-head matchups, Hendley had a 2.98 ERA, while Koufax’s was 3.65. What’s even more impressive is that from 1962-1965, Koufax went a ridiculous 84-25, and three of those losses came against Hendley. It might have hurt Hendley to lose his only career one-hitter, but he had his fair share of wins against a legendary pitcher.