Knuckleballer Phil Niekro pitched the first no-hitter of the 1969 season as the Atlanta Braves defeated the San Francisco Giants, 5-0, at Candlestick Park before an announced crowd of 15,988 fans. His flutterball combined with the Candlestick winds proved to be an unconquerable foe for the Giant batters. A brisk wind blew in from center field which made the knuckleball gyrate like a go-go dancer. The Giant batters couldn’t keep their eyes off it, but their bats couldn’t keep up with it. Niekro established his dominance early by striking out the side in the second and third innings. Through six innings, Niekro had eleven strikeouts, and finished the day with a total of twelve. The no-hitter also lowered Niekro’s National League leading ERA to an even 2.00.
His mound counterpart, Bobby Bolin, battled against the wind in the early frames. Bolin walked in the game’s first run on a bases-loaded pass to Sonny Jackson. Tony Gonzalez followed with a looper over second base to plate a second run. In the seventh, Niekro assisted in his own cause with a perfect sacrifice to advance Bob Didier who had walked with one out. Felipe Alou cashed it in with an RBI single up the middle for a 3-0 Braves lead. Gonzalez led off the eighth with a solo home run to provide Niekro with additional insurance. In the ninth, Niekro had a chance to pad the lead even further with Mike Lum on second and one out. Phil lined the ball to the left of second, but Ron Hunt stabbed at the ball and continued to second to double up Lum. No matter, Niekro’s real chance for immortality awaited in the bottom of the frame.
With three outs remaining, the butterflies guiding Niekro’s knuckler apparently settled into the right hander’s stomach as Niekro walked lead off hitter Bobby Bonds on four straight offerings. Hunt followed by popping up a knuckler on a 2-2 count. The winds that had so benefited Niekro this afternoon nearly cost him the no-hitter as Jackson staggered to follow the ball until it finally deposited into his mitt for the first out. Willie Mays grounded out to Millan as Bonds slipped over to second base. He was the first Giant baserunner to reach scoring position all afternoon. Jim Ray Hart stepped in to the box and wasted no time in determining the game’s final outcome. With the first pitch, Hart belted a deep fly ball to that momentarily looked like trouble. However, Alou coasted under the ball and caught it for the final out. Niekro’s teammates surrounded him and seemingly swept him off the field as the celebration quickly moved into the visitor’s locker room. The knuckle-baller baffled one of the more potent lineups in baseball for an entire afternoon. San Francisco was missing its’ leading hitter, Willie McCovey, who was out with a bruised shin suffered in yesterday’s opening game.
The Giants were also most recent no-hit victim as the Cardinals’ Bob Gibson turned the trick against the Giants last September.