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NO-HITTER IS TWICE AS NICE; TWO PIRATES PITCHERS STOP ASTROS : PIRATES 3, ASTROS 0.

Byline: Associated Press

Francisco Cordova pitched nine hitless innings but still didn't win the second best-pitched game in Pittsburgh Pirates' 110-year history. Unlike Harvey Haddix 38 years ago, he didn't lose, either.

Cordova, the son of a former Mexican League pitching star but a starter himself for less than a year, and reliever Ricardo Rincon combined on a 10-inning no-hitter before Mark Smith won it with a dramatic three-run homer as the Pirates beat the Houston Astros 3-0 Saturday night.

The only better performance in Pirates history was by Haddix, who pitched 12 perfect innings against Milwaukee on May 26, 1959 before losing on Joe Adcock's homer in the 13th - not an official no-hitter, but still the greatest game ever pitched in the majors.

``We don't know anything about (Haddix),'' said Cordova, who, like Rincon, speaks no English and was interviewed through interpreter Esteban Loaiza, the Pirates' other Mexican-born starter. ``We're happy what we've done, but it was more important for us to win. Winning was even greater than throwing a no-hitter.''

But the Pirates didn't win it until Smith, a spring-training pickup in an unnoticed trade, homered off Astros closer John Hudek - Pittsburgh's first run after being shut out for the first 27-2/3 innings of the series. Houston won the first two games by a combined 17-0.

``It's funny, but I got all fired up sitting on the bench in the ninth inning, thinking how great it would be to win the game with a homer,'' said Smith, acquired from San Diego in a four-player trade during the final week of March. ``It's the greatest feeling you could ever have.''

Cordova and Rincon, close friends and former Mexican League teammates couldn't have picked a more opportune night to pitch only the third no-hitter in Pittsburgh by a Pirates pitcher. The crowd of 44,119, lured by a Jackie Robinson tribute and fireworks show, was the Pirates' first non-Opening Day sellout since June 5, 1977.

The victory also allowed the Pirates to tie Houston for first place in the NL Central.

The crowd nearly lifted 27-year-old Three Rivers Stadium off its foundation after Smith's tape-measure drive, stomping and cheering throughout the 15-minute break between the end of the game and the fireworks show. As the scoreboard showed replay after replay, Smith was nearly carried off the field by his back-pounding, high-fiving teammates.

``How can you describe that?'' Smith said. ``Impossible. What a feeling. What a memory.''

Cordova will not receive individual credit for his nine no-hit innings but will be recognized along with Rincon (3-4) for the eighth combined no-hitter in history - and the first in extra innings.

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Photo

PHOTO Francisco Cordova, with reliever Ricardo Rincon, is part of the eighth combined no-hitter in history, the first in extra innings.

Associated Press
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Title Annotation:SPORTS
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jul 13, 1997
Words:465
Previous Article:STANDING TALL, NICHOLAS LEADS WOMEN'S OPEN; FIVE-FOOT GOLFER AHEAD OF LOPEZ.
Next Article:LEADER OF THE PACK; KELTY'S INVENTION GOT CARRIED AWAY.


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