The 1989-90 Major League baseball offseason began with a bang for the California Angels and their fans. On Dec. 1, 1989, the team signed free agent lefthander Mark Langston to a five year, $16 million contract, outbidding the Yankees and Dodgers. It briefly made Langston the highest paid player in baseball.
The signing gave the Angels a formidable rotation, with Langston joining Chuck Finley, Jim Abbott, Kirk McCaskill and Bert Blyleven – and pushed Mike Witt, at that time the franchise’s second-winningest pitcher, to the bullpen. Though he’d won 109 games in nine seasons with the Angels, Witt slumped to 9-15 with a 4.54 ERA in 1989.
As February neared, however, hopeful exuberance from fans turned to frustration as rumors of another work stoppage became reality. The players, concerned that the owners were talking about a salary cap, threatened a strike. The owners, concerned about a strike, instead locked out the players, putting spring training on indefinite hold.
After 32 days, the second longest work stoppage in MLB history, an agreement was reached on March 19 and an abbreviated spring training was begun. Opening Day was pushed back one week to April 9, but starting pitchers did not work as many innings as they would have during a normal spring. For their first regular season starts, most were placed on a strict pitch count.
Langston made his Angels debut in the season’s third game, a Wednesday night tilt at home against the Seattle Mariners, his former team.
Langston walked two Mariners in the first inning, but helped himself out by inducing a double play ball between them. He issued another walk in the third, but another double play erased that threat. The Mariners went down in order in the fourth and Langston worked around a fourth walk in the fifth to hold Seattle scoreless and, as most of the 25,632 fans in attendance were starting to realize, hitless, as well.
Mariners starter Erik Hanson, meanwhile, was pitching his own shutout against the Angels, but running up a high pitch count by working in and out of jams. After five innings, Hanson had already thrown 89 pitches and his night was done.
Langston retired the Mariners in order in both the sixth and seventh and walked off the mound locked up in a scoreless tie, already over his pitch count at 99 pitches thrown. There was as much question as to whether he’d come out for the eighth as to if he’d even win a game in which he’d thrown seven hitless innings.
The Angels offense, finally, answered one of those questions, literally pushing across one run on Dante Bichette’s bases loaded walk to score Johnny Ray. The inning ended with the Angels leading, 1-0.
Much to the disappointment of the fans at Anaheim Stadium, Langston’s night was finished. He was replaced by none other than the man he’d relegated to the bullpen, Witt, the last Angel to throw a no-hitter. (1984 perfect game against Texas.)
The big righty, who would soon be traded to the Yankees for outfielder Dave Winfield, was on his game, retiring Edgar Martinez and Greg Briley on groundouts and striking out Dave Valle. The Angels went 1-2-3 in the bottom of the eighth and Witt, not closer Bryan Harvey, took the mound for the ninth.
The crowd, which had booed his appearance the previous inning, this time rose to its feet and cheered every strike. Pinch hitter Scott Bradley and Harold Reynolds each grounded out to second, bringing Ken Griffey Jr. to the plate as Seattle’s last chance to break up the no-hit bid. On a 2-2 pitch, Griffey swung and missed, completing the Angels eighth no-hitter and first involving more than one pitcher.
It was quite a debut for Langston (7 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 4 BB, 3 K), though 1990 would go on to be arguably his worst season in an Angels uniform (10-17, 4.40 ERA). And a tidy ending to a solid Angels career for Witt, who would make nine more relief appearances before heading to New York on May 11.