The Padres’ first no-hitter should have come in 1982

San Diego Padres fans had to wait 52 years for the franchise’s first no-hitter  — about 39 years too long, the way I see it.

On June 2, 1982, Juan Eichelberger was credited with throwing a one-hitter in a 3-1 victory — with neither team scoring an earned run — over the Chicago Cubs on a windy Wednesday afternoon at Wrigley Field.

Officially, the Cubs’ only hit was a single in the second inning. Scot Thompson hit a ground ball between second and first that second baseman Tim Flannery was unable to field cleanly.

The official scorer, Dave Nightingale, scored it a hit.

I was watching the game on WGN, and I  thought it was an error. Even though I remain adamant that the call was wrong, it was by no means an egregious decision. I have seen similar plays scored both ways.

Since it was the first hit Eichelberger had given up, I remember musing to myself that if this had occurred in the seventh inning and Eichelberger were still working on a no-hitter, it would have been ruled an error.

Unwritten rule

There’s an unwritten but often followed rule in baseball scoring, that if a pitcher is working on a no-hitter, the first hit has to be a clean one.

I’ve never liked that rule. I think a play should be scored the same no matter the circumstances. If it’s a hit, it’s a hit. If it’s an error, it’s an error. No-hitter, a guy going for a record, trying to hit .400, home team or visitor, whatever, it shouldn’t matter.

Anyway, I sure didn’t expect Eichelberger to hold the Cubs hitless the rest of the day. He looked solid but hardly overpowering.

Certainly, it was not a dominating performance such as Joe Musgrove’s 10-strikeout, no-walk outing on April 9 that finally gave the franchise its long-awaited no-hitter.

Eichelberger only struck out three and walked a couple.

Fly-ball follies

Dickie Noles kept the Padres off the scoreboard until the sixth inning. The Padres loaded the bases and scored three runs when center-fielder Leon Durham misplayed a fly ball.

In the bottom of the sixth, Dan Briggs hit a fly to left. “Gene Richards, fighting a tough wind, made the wrong turn, was unable to recover, and the ball glanced off his glove,” the Chicago Tribune reported. Briggs wound up on third. The next batter, Bump Wills, hit a sacrifice fly to make it 3-1.

Briggs’ fly ball was another play that could reasonably be called a hit or an error.

Eichelberger threw three more innings of hitless, shutout ball.

Post-game reaction

The Padres, naturally, mostly thought Thompson’s hit should have been Flannery’s error.

“If a second baseman can’t get that ball, he shouldn’t be in the big leagues,” Flannery told the Tribune. “It was a routine play. I ran three feet to my left, toward first base. I was right there. I was in front of the ball. I thought for sure it was an error. I’d like to play here in Chicago. I’d have a chance to hit .400.”

Thompson thought he had a righteous hit.

“It was the right call,” Thompson told reporters. “If he makes that play, it’s a helluva play.”

Padres catcher Terry Kennedy had a slightly different view. “Briggs should have had a hit and Flannery should have had an error. Either way, it was a one-hitter,’’ Kennedy told the Tribune.

For his part, Nightingale was not backing down. “I’d be surprised if Flannery didn’t say it should be an error, and I’d be surprised if Eichelberger wasn’t disappointed,’’ Nightingale told The Los Angeles Times. “The nobility of the second baseman would have been more valid if he’d called in the second inning.”

Lobbying and scoring

The Padres wanted the decision changed. “They could easily do it,” one of the Padres coaches, Ozzie Virgil, told the Times.

Yes, they could. Scoring decisions are not final like umpires’ decisions (before video review).

Scorers are encouraged to talk to players and others with a clear view of the play. They have up to 24 hours to change a decision. And players regularly lobby for changes, sometimes during the game, usually afterward; fans don’t see these interactions, but they can get quite ugly.

I have never heard of a scorer changing a call to give a pitcher a no-hitter. And from what I know of Nightingale, he was not the type to bend easily.

“He was very sure of himself,’’ his former sports editor at the Chicago Daily News told the Chicago Tribune when Nightingale died in 2007.

By the time of this game, Nightingale was the national columnist for The Sporting News.

Up until that time, most official scorers were sportswriters. They were already at the game. They could use the extra money, so it was a good fit.

But in the 1970s and 1980s, news organizations became less comfortable with reporters working, even part-time, for a league they were covering, and possibly being a central figure in news stories. So the practice faded away.

Last word

“The rule of thumb,’’ Eichelberger told the Times, “is that the first hit is supposed to be a clean one. I’m not trying to rip Dave Nightingale. In most ballparks, the home club gets the hit when it’s questionable.”

The Padres were chasing the Atlanta Braves in the National League West at that point in the 1982 season.

“I would like to have a no-hitter,’’ Eichelberger told the Times, “but the main thing I guess is we won the game.”

The win gave them a three-game sweep and kept them only 1.5 games back of the leaders.

That seemed more urgent at the time.

Certainly, a Padre would throw a no-hitter.

Sooner or later.

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