To this present day, Tom Kokoska nonetheless marvels that Frank Viola’s curveball appeared to drop out of the sky. Don Giordano remembers Ron Darling’s slider beginning at a right-handed hitter’s head and in some way touchdown on the skin nook.
Both have been principally unhittable 40 years in the past immediately, May 21, 1981, two future main league pitchers matching up within the NCAA Tournament northeast regional opener in what some think about the best faculty baseball sport of all time at Yale Field in New Haven, Conn.
There was nationwide powerhouse St. John’s coming off a College World Series look the 12 months earlier than, house owners of a 31-2 file. In the opposing dugout was Ivy League foe Yale, which had 12 losses, however did have Darling, a two-time All-American who was additionally its high hitter.
Darling didn’t permit successful over the primary 11 innings and completed with 16 strikeouts, a efficiency he referred to as his most interesting at any degree. Viola tossed 11 shutout innings. The sport wasn’t determined till the twelfth, when St. John’s second baseman Steve Scafa blooped within the sport’s solely hit and stole dwelling for the afternoon’s lone run.
“Sixty-one years old, being involved in the game for over 50 years,” Viola mentioned in a cellphone interview, “and I can honestly say today that still has been the best game I’ve ever seen pitched to go along with one of the best games I’ve ever been a part of.”
St. John’s arrived in New Haven cocky and anticipating to win. It had two elite prospects in Viola and fellow southpaw John Franco, a staff of metropolis guys who weren’t afraid to speak trash. Darling was in the meantime hopeful Yale might maintain its personal towards such a tough opponent.
It wasn’t lengthy earlier than each groups realized what was in retailer. The Johnnies’ chatter shortly subsided. Viola, now a pitching coach with the unbiased league High Point Rockers in North Carolina, recalled considered one of his teammates coming again to the dugout in awe after hanging out within the first inning.
“It’s going to be a long day, boys. Oh my God, it’s the best stuff I’ve ever seen,” the participant mentioned of Darling, who could be the ninth-overall choose within the 1981 draft and go on to win the World Series with the Mets 5 years later.
While Darling was mowing down the Johnnies, slicing by means of their lineup, Viola was matching him zero for zero. Yale had probabilities, registered seven hits and drew 4 walks, however Viola wouldn’t break. Darling was so dominant, although, it didn’t really feel like he was tossing a shutout.
“I pitched pretty damn well, and I felt like I was losing every inning,” mentioned Viola, a second-round choose of the Twins that 12 months who gained an AL Cy Young Award and reached three All-Star Games. “Every time I crossed that first-base line, I just had to look back at the scoreboard to make sure there was a zero up there to make sure it stayed tied.”
As every inning handed with out St. John’s registering successful and Yale scoring a run, the group started to extend, as much as 2,500. A neighborhood tv crew arrived within the center innings as phrase unfold. Tension grew on the sphere. In the stands, the place baseball author Roger Angell of the New Yorker and celebrated former Red Sox pitcher Smoky Joe Wood sat, it grew to become quiet.
“A focused intensity all throughout the stadium,” is how Kokoska, Darling’s roommate and considered one of Yale’s catchers, described it. “The conversations ended. By the middle of the game, people were riveted.”
Darling’s no-hit bid lastly got here to an finish to begin the twelfth. Scafa, a speedster who would play within the Yankees’ minor league system, led off with a comfortable single over shortstop. He mentioned he bought jammed, however had sufficient to get the ball to the outfield.
Before Darling might assault the following hitter, he needed to cease. He obtained a rousing ovation, and it wasn’t simply from the group. The whole St. John’s dugout stepped to the highest step and applauded him.
“It might’ve been the classiest [gesture] I ever had paid to me by an opponent,” mentioned Darling, who now calls Mets video games for SNY.
From there, Scafa went to work. He stole second, third and residential for the sport’s lone run. Yale contributed. A bobbled grounder put runners on the corners. St. John’s pitching coach Howie Gershberg, who was filling in for ailing head coach Joe Russo, referred to as for what Scafa joked was “the best first-and-third play in the history of college baseball.” When pinch-runner Thomas Covino bought caught in a rundown, Scafa sprinted dwelling and beat the throw. Still, the 2 pitchers are what most bear in mind of that day.
“I consider myself the Rodney Dangerfield of that game,” Scafa joked.
After hard-throwing freshman nearer Eric Stampl retired the aspect so as within the twelfth, hanging out Darling to begin the body, a celebration of what simply transpired started. St. John’s was thrilled to outlive and acted accordingly, and the followers and media members in attendance stormed the sphere. Darling was quickly surrounded by followers wanting his autograph, tv cameras and reporters asking him questions. It was like nothing he had ever skilled earlier than.
“It was surreal,” Darling mentioned.
Four a long time later, he nonetheless makes use of the identical adjective — surreal — to explain that day. It was every part that occurred. The scouts behind the plate. His no-hitter by means of 11 innings. The excessive stakes of the NCAA Tournament. An Ivy League faculty pushing a nationwide powerhouse to the brink.
There have been no losers that day, he mentioned. Darling and Viola, although, have been the most important winners. A couple of years later, Viola was advised that efficiency by itself elevated him a number of rounds within the draft. It cemented Darling as a top-10 choose.
The two confronted one another at Triple-A one season, and Viola had Darling over for a steak dinner. Later of their careers, they might share a clubhouse with the Mets. But most of all, the 2 buddies share that day, matching zeroes in New Haven.
“Just that one simple game,” Darling mentioned, “made us intertwined for life.”