It was 45 years ago this week that Joe Niekro of the Detroit Tigers was destined to make history.
Niekro had a no-hitter going against New York in Tiger Stadium on July 2, 1970. There was one out in the ninth when Yankee second baseman Horace Clarke stepped to the plate and spoiled Niekro’s place in baseball’s annals.
Instead, it was Clarke who was having the historic moment. For the third time in a month, Clarke would break up a no-hitter in the ninth inning becoming the first player in the big leagues to accomplish that feat.
Clarke’s single would be the only blemish for Niekro as the Tigers would go on to win 5-0 on a one-hitter by the right-hander. He would also add a two-run single of his own in the victory.
A few weeks before in Boston on June 19, Clarke took care of Sonny Siebert’s chance at a no-hitter.
The Red Sox led the Yankees 7-0 when Clarke led off the ninth with a single for the first hit against Siebert, who was about to be sent to the showers very quickly. Jerry Kenney followed with a double and then Bobby Murcer scored both runners with a single.
The first time Clarke broke up a no-hitter in the ninth turned out to be a much better experience for the Yankees. On June 4, Jim Rooker of Kansas City was blanking New York during a 1-0 affair in Yankee Stadium.
The Royals had scored the only run of the game in the top of the first inning on a RBI hit by Bob Oliver until Clarke went to bat to lead off the ninth with a single. Murcer then doubled Clarke home to send the contest into extra frames.
With Rooker still on the mound in the bottom of the 12th, the left-hander gave up two more hits before leaving the game with one out. Moe Drabowsky entered the affair for the Royals and faced one batter, which happened to be Clarke, who ended the game with a sacrifice fly giving the Yankees a 2-1 win.
Since Clarke’s achievement in 1970, Joe Maurer of the Minnesota Twins was able to match it, but it took it a few more years.
In 2008, Maurer broke up a no-hitter by Gavin Floyd of the Chicago White Sox. Two years later, Neftali Feliz of the Texas Rangers lost his gem to Maurer, while Anibal Sanchez of the Tigers fell victim in 2013.
Niekro was never able to tossed a no-hitter in his 22-year career, but he did manage to win 221 contests. His brother, Phil Niekro, did pitch a no-hitter in 1973 for the Atlanta Braves during his Hall of Fame career.
Joe Niekro made the National League All-Star team with the Houston Astros in 1979 when he finished the season 21-11. The following year, he posted a 20-12 mark as the Astros made the post-season for the first time. Near the end of his time in the major leagues, Neikro was a part of the 1987 Twins that won the World Series.
At the end of the 1970 season, Niekro was 12-13 with a 4.06 ERA for the Tigers.
Clarke was with the Yankees from 1965-1974. He was sold to the San Diego Padres in May of 1974 as he finished his career. He was a .256 lifetime batter with 1,230 hits.
Defensively, he led the American League in assists by a second baseman from 1967-1972. From 1968-1971, he topped the AL list in putouts by a second baseman.
In 1970, Clarke had four homers with 46 RBI and .251 batting average. He put up his best numbers in 1969 with a .285 average and four homers and 48 RBI.