On June 15, 1938, Johnny Vander Meer hurls the second of his two consecutive no-hitters as the Reds beat the Dodgers in Brooklyn, 6-0, in the first major league night game played outside of Cincinnati. Four days earlier, on June 11, Vander Meer had no-hit the Boston Braves at Crosley Field in Cincinnati, 3-0.
1938 was Vander Meer’s second professional season after Vander Meer posted a 3-5 record in 19 games (10 starts) with a 3.84 ERA in 1937. Vander Meer was already 5-2 with a 2.77 ERA entering his June 11 start. He had allowed only three runs and 13 hits through 28 innings pitched in his previous three starts, all wins. He was dominating against the Braves, walking only three and facing only 28 batters in hurling the first Reds no-hitter since Hod Eller in 1919. Vander Meer retired the Braves in order in the ninth to finish the game and no Brave reached second base in the game. Two of the Reds’ three runs scored on catcher Ernie Lombardi’s sixth inning two-run homer. “Redleg Journal” by Greg Rhodes and John Snyder notes:
“Many in the crowd did not realize a no-hitter was in progress. The Crosley Field scoreboard didn’t display the number of hits each team had accumulated until the late 1940’s.”
Vander Meer started four days later in Brooklyn. The first ever major league night game had been played in Cincinnati in 1935 and the game with the Dodgers would be the first major league game hosted by any other major league team. Vander Meer was from Midland Park, New Jersey, and about 500 neighbors and family from his hometown came to watch him pitch. However, this game was more of a struggle. Vander Meer led the National League in strikeouts three times, but he also led the league in walks twice, and was even sent back to the minors during the Reds 1940 World Series championship team to work on his control. Despite his control problems, Vander Meer was named to four all-star teams, and finished in the top 25 in MVP voting four different times.
Johnny’s control was haphazard at best against the Dodgers. He walked eight batters, including three with one out in the ninth inning. The Reds had acquired Bucky Walters on the day of Vander Meer’s first no-hitter and Reds manager Bill McKechnie had him warming in the bullpen as Vander Meer labored through the ninth. Vander Meer induced Ernie Koy to hit into a force play at home, before facing former Reds shortstop Leo Durocher. According to the book “The Team by Team Encyclopedia of Major League Baseball” by Dennis Purdy, Durocher fouled off a pitch, and then hit the next pitch into the upper deck, but just foul, for strike two. Durocher took the next pitch for a ball that Lombardi and Vander Meer thought was strike three. Later, even umpire Bill Stewart agreed that the pitch should have ended the game. On the next pitch, Durocher hit a sinking line drive that Reds center fielder Harry Craft caught to end the game and giving Vander Meer more than 70 years of fame to this point.
Vander Meer’s hitless streak didn’t stop there. His next start was against the Braves (again), only this time in Boston. He walked the leadoff batter, then retired the ten batters in a row before Debs Garms singled in the fourth inning. Baseball-reference.com quotes Vander Meer concerning Garms:
I could’ve kissed him – the tension was eating me up.”
Vander Meer finished the four-hitter, with the Reds winning 14-1, Vander Meer’s ERA dropping to 2.12. More from “The Team-by-Team Encyclopedia”:
“In the game before his double no-hitters, Vander Meer had pitched six hitless innings before allowing one hit in the ninth inning. In the game just after his two no-hitters, with Cy Young in the stands, Vander Meer didn’t allow a hit until the fourth inning. His 21 consecutive hitless innings set a National League record and remain second to Cy Young’s major league record 24 consecutive innings. Had he not given up a hit in the ninth inning of the preceding game, Vander Meer would have tallied 28 consecutive hitless innings.”
In addition to the above, Vander Meer extended his shutout streak to a club record 32 innings, which came to an end when the Braves finally scored in the seventh. “Redleg Journal” notes that through “seven starts between May 19 and June 19, Vander Meer only allowed four runs and 20 hits in 64 innings.”
Vander Meer finished his career with the Reds at 116-116. His best season was 1942 when the lefthander went 18-12 with a 2.43 ERA and led the league with 186 strikeouts.