Billy Rohr was signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates for $25,000 in 1963. The Pirates attempted to hide Rohr’s obvious skill by placing him on the disabled list the entire year. This did not fool the Red Sox who drafted Rohr in November that year.
Rohr would pitch well the following 3 years in the Red Sox system. In stints at Wellsville, Winston-Salem and the Red Sox AAA Toronto team Rohr demonstrated a knack for going deep into games, pitching 23 complete games.
In 1967, Rohr got his chance in the Big leagues. He went 2-3 with a 5.10 ERA in 10 appearances (8 starts). By the end of June, he was out of Boston and would pitch one more season in the Majors the following year for the Cleveland Indians.
So why am I writing about Billy Rohr? What makes him a remarkable part of Red Sox lore?
On April 14th, Rohr made his major league debut. It came against the New York Yankees. During their home opener. Versus future Hall of Famer Whitey Ford. Needless to say Rohr was nervous. Fellow Red Sox pitcher Dennis Bennett was quoted as saying “If he gets by the first inning, he’ll be okay. But he’s a nervous wreck right now.” How foreboding.
Reggie Smith lead the game off with a home run in the top of the first to give the Red Sox a 1-0 lead. Rohr then pitched a perfect first inning. And a perfect second inning. And a perfect third. He found himself in a bit of a jam in the 4th inning, having walked two batters, but managed to escape unscathed.
In the sixth inning, a scorcher up the middle hit Rohr in the shin. The ball bounced to third base and the play was made in time for the out. Rohr, in obvious pain, had a limp for the remainder of the game. Manager Dick Williams wanted to pull Billy from the game, but Rohr insisted he stay in. He was throwing a no-hitter, after all.
And so Rohr pitched the 7th and 8th, still holding the Yankees hitless.
The bottom of the ninth came. The first batter of the inning Tom Tresh hit a ball deep to left field. Yaz made a miraculous catch to preserve the no hitter. Ken Coleman who was broadcasting the game over the radio said it was one of the greatest catches he had ever seen. Rohr retired the next batter and faced Elston Howard, one out away from history.
Howard hit the ball to right field where the ball fell in front of Tony Conigliaro. After 26 outs, Rohr had allowed a hit. Rohr would finish the game out and record a 1 hit, complete game shutout.
Some other fun facts: Russ Gibson, who caught Rohr’s 1 hitter, was also making his major league debut.
Elston Howard has said that when he broke up the no hitter, it was the only time fans booed him at home for getting a hit.
Rohr would face the Yankees in his second start as well. He nearly shut them out again. But the shutout was lost when- who but Elston Howard singled in the Yankees lone run. The Sox would win 6-1.