Niekro makes his pitch for 300th win
During that time, the 46-year-old future Hall of Famer had made four starts, going 0-3 while the Yankees battled to stay in the race for the American League East title. He had even been joined in the Yankees clubhouse by his brother Joe Niekro, who was acquired by New York from the Astros for the stretch drive.
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So for the first 26 outs – as New York built a 5-0 advantage after five innings and led 8-0 going into the bottom of the ninth – Niekro used a variety of change-ups, curveballs and even a screwball to hold the Blue Jays to four walks and three hits. But with former Braves teammate Jeff Burroughs at the plate with two outs, Niekro called on his trusted friend.
“I figured if there’s any way I’m going to win my 300th by striking the guy out, I was going to do it with the pitch that won the first game for me,” Niekro told the Hartford Courant.
So after a first-pitch fastball for a strike, Niekro offered up three straight knuckleballs. Burroughs took one for a ball and the next for a strike, then swung through the third one to give Niekro his historic win.
“Maybe it will set an example for some people who don’t have the ability to throw the fastball or curveball,” Niekro told the Courant. “If you do have a pitch you can get over the plate, you can win.”
Niekro got more good news following the game when Joe informed him that their father, who had been ill in a West Virginia hospital, had been taken out of intensive care.
“He was as much a part of these 300 wins as I was,” said Niekro, who was taught the knuckleball by his father.
The victory also made Niekro the oldest pitcher in history to throw a shutout (a record that was surpassed by Jamie Moyer in 2010). At 46 years and 188 days, Niekro was 113 days older than Satchel Paige when he shut out the White Sox on Sept. 20, 1952.
Niekro pitched two more seasons in the big leagues with the Indians and Braves following his 300th win, adding 18 more wins to his victory total. He retired with a record of 318-274 with a 3.35 ERA over 24 seasons.
Niekro was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1997.
Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum