One of the most maligned New York Yankees ever, second baseman Horace Clarke, broke up a potential no-hitter by Kansas City's Jim Rooker in the ninth inning and would go on to drive in the winning run in the 12th as the Yankees defeated the Royals 2-1 before a sparse crowd of 6,510 at Yankee Stadium.
Clarke, played 10 seasons for the Yankees, and batted leadoff most of the time, producing an OBP of .304 as a leadoff hitter. He managed to steal 151, although never more than 33 in any one season. He played in the field much of his career while wearing a helmet, drawing ridicule from the fans. The Yankees never finished in first place during his career and for some, he personified the bad times the Yankees were going through at the time. In 2004, sportswrite Phil Pepe felt so bad for Clarke that he wrote an impassioned plea on the YES Network website in defense of Clarke. How did Clarke keep his job? Well, the Yankees never really had anyone better to replace him. Sandy Alomar eventually did in 1974.
On this night at Yankee Stadium, manager Ralph Houk gave Stan Bahnsen the start. Kansas City manager Charlie Metro started his 27-year old lefty Rooker, who was briefly Yankee property before being taken by the Royals in the expansion draft after the 1968 season.
The Royals got their only run in the first. With one out, first baseman Joe Keough reached when Bahnsen dropped a throw from first baseman John Ellis. Center fielder Amos Otis, acquired from the Mets in the offseason along with Bob Johnson in exchange for Joe Foy (one of the Mets worst trades ever), grounded out to short, but Keough was running on the pitch and moved up to second. Third baseman Bob Oliver singled to score Keough.
That one run appeared to be all Rooker would need. While Rooker was wild, walking five through eight innings, he hadn't given up a hit and had struck out seven. Rooker was on target for the first no-hitter in the AL since Jim Palmer on August 13, 1969 against Oakland.
Clarke was the first batter he faced in the ninth and he ended the suspense by slapping a single to left field. Center fielder Bobby Murcer followed with a double off the auxiliary scoreboard in right field and Clarke scored to tie the game. Rooker intentionally walked left fielder Roy White, but worked out of trouble by third baseman Danny Cater to pop out, catcher Thurman Munson to fly out to right and then get right fielder Ron Woods to bounce into a force play to end the inning.
The Yankees had a good chance to win the game in the 11th against Rooker. With one out, Murcer singled. White followed with a single to center and Murcer tried to go to third, but Otis gunned him out as White moved up to second. Cater received an intentional walk. Munson then hit a liner to right that Ed Kirkpatrick made a shoestring catch on to preserve the tie.
The Royals didn't score in the top of the 12th. In the bottom of the 12th, Woods led off with a single. Ellis forced him at second and Jerry Kenney came in to run for him. Shortstop Gene Michael singled to send Kenney to second. Pete Ward pinch hit for reliever Lindy McDaniel and drew a walk to load the bases and Jim Lyttle ran for him. At this point, Metro decided to pull Rooker, who had thrown 146 pitches, for Moe Drabowsky. But Drabowsky wasn't the answer as Clarke was able to hit a fly ball to Otis in center that was deep enough to allow Kenney to score the winning run.
Little did anyone know that Clarke would have a penchant for breaking up no-hitters in the ninth innings. On June 19th at Fenway Park, Sonny Siebert of the Red Sox took a no-hitter into the ninth, but Clarke led off with a single. And on July 2nd at Detroit, Joe Niekro of the Tigers got within two outs of a no-hitter before Clarke singled to ruin things for him.
There would be a no-hitter thrown in baseball soon enough. Dock Ellis of the Pirates no-hit San Diego on June 12 in the first game of a doubleheader. What made this feat more impressive is that Ellis admitted to being on LSD during the game.
The 1970 Yankees had their best year ever since last winning the AL in 1964, going 93-69. Unfortunately for them, this still left them 15 games out of first as eventual World Series champion Baltimore would win 108 games. Munson would win the Rookie of the Year award. Kansas City finished tied for fourth in the AL West at 65-97, 33 games behind Minnesota. But the Royals, with an excellent front office and minor league system, would improve to 85 wins and a second place finish in 1971, in just their third year of existence.
Sources: New York Times, Baseballreference.com, Retrosheet, Baseballlibrary.com, YES.com