July 4th, America’s national holiday: Fireworks! Barbecues! Baseball! Yet there is always one game that will always stand out on this day. On the Fourth of July in 1983, Dave Righetti of the New York Yankees faced the Boston Red Sox in a matinee game. It was Yankees owner George Steinbrenner’s birthday.
Righetti was 9-3 on the season. Two years earlier he had been voted AL Rookie of the Year. He’d thrown his first career shutout his previous start. Some felt he’d been snubbed at not being selected for the 1983 All-Star Game. Maybe he felt he wanted to make a point.
In the first inning Righetti struck out Jerry Remy and Wade Boggs but then walked Jim Rice; in 1982, Righetti had walked more batters in the league than anyone else. But he struck out Tony Armas for the third out. It was already the kind of start that catches the attention of the fans.
Righetti later said he’d known from before the game that he had to shut down the Red Sox bats – the team had been hot, 38 hits in the three prior games against the Yankees and 12 homers in their last four games. After striking out seven in the first three frames, he knew he could change locations and pitch and not just try to throw the ball. Catcher Butch Wynegar was calling a good game for the Yankees from behind the plate.
Righetti rolled through the Red Sox for the first six innings. It was, as Yogi Berra would say, deja vu all over again. He had a no-hitter going against the Red Sox on June 10, 1982, but lost it after six-plus innings. This day he got the first out in the seventh to match that effort, but then walked Jim Rice again. Right away, Rice was erased on an inning-ending double play. Now fans, and the broadcast audience, were each tuned into the game in their own way.
All Righetti needed was six more outs for the no-hitter. Everyone was on edge. Yankees manager Billy Martin said that, for the first time in baseball, he’d prayed. Wynegar said he feared going to the mound to tell Righetti to relax. The eighth inning comes, and goes, with Righetti continuing his march to history on America’s holiday.
Righetti started the ninth inning by walking a .190 hitter, Boston catcher Jeff Newman. However, he was able to get the next two batters on groundouts, and he was one out away from securing his place in baseball lore. Wade Boggs was the final batter. At a 2-2 count, Righetti threw his 132nd and final pitch, a slider that had Boggs flailing at the wind. A no-hitter on the Fourth oh July.
It was the first time the Red Sox had been no-hit since 1968. It was the first no-hitter at Yankee Stadium in 27 years – since Don Larsen’s perfect game during the 1956 World Series – and the first regular-season no-hitter there since Allie Reynolds on September 28, 1951.
Being July 4, this one was followed by a fireworks display over the East River, and when you sit back and remember this game, one thought will always come to mind – Baseball is, and forever will be, America’s Pastime.