DETROIT — Juan Nieves has coached against the Milwaukee Brewers before.
But Tuesday had a little different feel for him after Corbin Burnes and Josh Hader combined Saturday in Cleveland to throw the franchise’s second no-hitter.
Nieves, of course, authored the first – all the way back on April 15, 1987 in Baltimore – and the parties met Tuesday for a pregame chat and to take some pictures at Comerica Park.
“Congratulations to both guys and to the organization,” said Nieves, now an assistant pitching coach for the Detroit Tigers. “One thing that I regret not happening with mine or the most recent one is the fact that it never happens in Milwaukee. I was hoping for the fan base in Milwaukee to see something like that. It would be wonderful.
“I’ve been involved as a coach (in no-hitters) and it’s always more fun when you do it at home.”
Nieves was in the midst of a game with the Tampa Bay Rays when Burnes struck out 14 over eight innings and Hader two more in the ninth in a 3-0 victory.
He’d learned of his historic feat finally being matched after getting back to the clubhouse and seeing a flurry of text messages on his phone.
The Brewers have flirted with no-hitters in the past – including a few close calls this season – but hadn’t been able to get over the hump until Saturday night at Progressive Field.
Nieves said on such occasions he’d usually hear from somebody that Milwaukee had come close to matching his historic feat.
“I hear it a little; my friends always tell me when someone comes close,” he said. “I think the longer I’m in the game and the more I see, I think, ‘Wow, that’s a special night.’ All of a sudden the sun, the moon and stars line up correctly.
“I always say that one of the most interesting things about when that no-hitter happened is we actually started the season 13-0 and there was a hero every night. We had the Sunday game that we came back and won. Somebody threw another shutout. Somebody hit three homers in a game.
“It was wonderful what happened in that span of 13 games.”
Nieves was a tender 23 years of age when he teamed up with Bill Schroeder to form the battery that held the Orioles hitless at Memorial Stadium.
Making his second start of the season, Nieves estimated he threw 118 pitches, which would have been three more than Burnes threw in eight innings. Nieves walked five and generated only three ground-ball outs while striking out seven.
The signature play of that game was Robin Yount’s diving catch in right-center that robbed Eddie Murray of extra bases and clinched the 7-0 victory. But there were a few other moments that Nieves recalled as well.
“Several plays that were dynamic plays,” he said. “Even in the third inning, (Jim) Paciorek had a great play. Dale Sveum had a ground-ball double play on a bullet right at him. Overall, I think the intensity of the game (stood out).
“It was 1-0 all the way through to the end. As a young pitcher, you’re never thinking about the no-hitter. It’s a 1-0 game. You’re just trying to put zeros up there. When we took the lead it was a little different. That’s when I started thinking about it.
“Meanwhile, Mike Flanagan is throwing a gem and I’m thinking, ‘Just another zero.’ That’s all it was.”
Nieves admitted to being “surprised” his no-hitter stood for so long and said he wasn’t among those who believe a combined no-hitter should have an asterisk placed next to it when the starter isn’t able to go the distance.
“Absolutely not,” he said. “There’s combined no-hitters that have happened in the big leagues before. But it’s a different era. They’re going to be pitching right through October, so you have to be really careful not extending him so you have him fresh through that run.
“They have their reasons why and I’m sure he’ll have many more shots at it.”
Arm problems left Nieves to pitch only three years in the major leagues, as he finished with a 32-25 record, a 4.71 earned run average and one save over 490⅔ innings.
He was the second-youngest pitcher to throw a no-hitter at the time as well as the first Puerto Rican.
Nieves began his coaching career in the minor leagues with the New York Yankees in 1992 and got back to the majors in 2007 as a bullpen coach with the Chicago White Sox.
He also coached for the Boston Red Sox and Miami Marlins before joining Detroit’s staff last offseason.
“Unfortunately, my career was a little short, but I’ve been blessed coaching,” he said. “I’ve seen many (no-hitters) on the other side.”
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