I’m not going to discuss Jalen Beeks’ incredibly rough Major League debut. More often than not, rookies crumble under pressure in their first games. Did it suck to see him strike out the first batter he faced, let myself to hope he’d be the next Roger Clemens, and then see him give up 5 runs in the first inning? Of course. Am I going to hold it against him forever? Probably not.
Instead, I’m going to tell you the story of a Red Sox rookie pitcher who did have an impressive debut. It’s probably the greatest pitching debut in semi-recent baseball history, and you probably haven’t even heard the kid’s name.
Billy Rohr made his MLB debut as a Red Sock at Yankee Stadium. He was 21 years old during what would soon be called the Impossible Dream Season in 1967, when the Red Sox would finish in first place in the American League after eight consecutive losing seasons. That season, they would reach the World Series for the first time since 1946, but lose to the Cardinals (again) in seven games.
Rohr’s big day came on April 14, 1967. His first MLB start was the team’s first game against the Yankees that year. Both teams had won their season openers, and now Rohr would face off against veteran Yankee hurler Whitey Ford, who was pitching his 11th home opener.
While Ford gave up a leadoff homer to Rohr’s fellow rookie teammate Reggie Smith, Rohr set down the side in order. And he continued to do so inning after inning after inning, retiring the first ten batters he faced. Ford, meanwhile, gave up hits to Yaz and Tony C, to name a few Sox legends.
In the 6th, Bill Robinson hit the ball straight back at Rohr’s shin, but he iced his leg between innings and continued to pitch. No one could hit him; even Mickey Mantle popped out when he came in to pinch-hit.
In the 9th inning, with 2 outs, Rohr had a full count on Elston Howard, the first African American player on the Yankees roster, who would actually be traded to the Red Sox later that season. One strike away from a no-hitter, Rohr gave up a single hit to Howard. He retired the next batter to end the game. Interestingly, he only had two strikeouts in nine full innings of shutout baseball.
Rohr’s pitching debut is one of the greatest by a pitcher in baseball history, probably the greatest in franchise history. And it came against their greatest rivals. Rohr would actually go on to pitch another complete game victory against the Yankees a week later, though, in his day, complete games were typical of pitchers, not the rarity they are today.
Though Rohr only played in the Majors for two seasons, this feat deserves recognition. Peter Gammons once called him a “symbol” of the Impossible Dream season, saying, “Billy Rohr was 1967.” For a young man with so much potential and promise to perform that way in his first game, I’m inclined to agree with Gammons.
In baseball’s modern era (since 1900), no pitcher has thrown a no-hitter in their Major League pitching debut. In this era of juiced balls, it’s unlikely we’ll ever see someone accomplish that feat.
At least Red Sox fans will always have Billy Rohr.