From The Humble Comes The Great

On May 26, 1959, a pitcher named Harvey Haddix pitched 12 and 2/3 innings of perfect baseball for the Pittsburgh Pirates against the Milwaukee Braves. He had the unfortunate timing to pitch this masterpiece on a day that his teammates failed to score, and when he gave up a home run in the 13th inning he lost the perfect game, the no-hitter…and the game. Even now, 51 years later, it is considered by many to be the most extraordinary game ever pitched – and the standard by which baseball frustration is measured.

Harvey Haddix, meet Stevie Goldstein.

It’s hard to imagine that I will be covering an event with more humble surroundings than that which I encountered yesterday at North Torrance High School – south of Los Angeles and hard by the 405 Freeway, a massive set of power lines, and an Exxon oil refinery. The contrast between this softball venue and the every-blade-of-grass-perfectly-trained splendor of UCLA’s Easton Stadium that I experienced last week was stark. What was exactly the same though, was playoff softball played well.

Division 4 of the Southern Section of the California Interscholastic Federation is made up of 11 different leagues spread out across the southern half of the state. The top two teams in each of those leagues are joined by a select number of at-large schools in a 32-team tournament to determine the Southern Section Championship. North Torrance High was one of those at-large teams, having finished third in the powerful Pioneer League. They made the most of the opportunity, winning their first two tournament games by a combined total of 34-4, and earning the right to host a quarter-final game.

Their opponent was Aquinas High School, a proud Catholic school located in arid Riverside County, the no-man’s land between the bright lights of L.A. and the swank of Palm Springs. They had won their league despite fielding a squad that was small in size and in number. And while North Torrance had been rounding the bases with regularity thus far in the tournament, Aquinas had won their first and second round games with a total of just 3 runs. They had discipline, they had defense…and they had Stevie Goldstein.

One of the first things I noticed as I settled into the bleachers to watch this game was that home plate seemed a whole lot closer to the pitcher’s mound than it was in the collegiate game. Looking it up when I returned home I discovered that in college the distance is 43’, but in high school it is just 40’. Those three extra feet may not seem like such a big deal – unless you are digging in against a pitcher that, like Goldstein, is more than six feet tall and possessive of a very long stride. And a golden arm. As Stevie threw strike after strike after strike I began to realize that I was witnessing a special talent.

As good as Goldstein was, Molly Winders and the North Torrance defense behind her were equal to the task. And so the game flew through the seven innings of regulation play without a runner so much as advancing past first base. And in North Torrance’s case, without a base hit. Their sole base runner had come via an error. And neither Goldstein nor Winders had walked a single batter. At this point I was on the phone to Anaheim, trying to get the Angels together to watch this clinic. “See guys, these two girls throw these things called ‘strikes’…you know, pitches that actually go over the plate…the plate – it’s that white thing near the catcher…oh never mind.”

In both halves of the 8th inning runners were left stranded at third base. In the top of the 9th Aquinas had runners on second and third with one out. Nothing across. In the bottom of the 9th, an acrobatic diving catch preserved Goldstein’s no-hitter. And on it went. There were baserunners in almost every inning for Aquinas, but they just could not push that one run across. Meanwhile, Goldstein just kept getting stronger. Into the 10th inning, the 11th, the 12th she went without yielding a hit.

The tension was palpable. Parents abandoned the bleachers so they could be free to pace around nervously. What had been a lively crowd started to get quiet and edgy. Sniping at the umpires began to pick up. Despite the emotional trauma of the fans however, the players on both teams seemed unfazed by the pressure of knowing that they were always just one run, one potential mistake away from their season being over. If they were nervous, they hid it well and made play after play after play – many of them bordering on the spectacular. In the top of the 13th inning North Torrance gunned down not one, but two Aquinas runners going to third on successive plays.

Then with two outs in the 14th inning, North Torrance finally managed a single – their first hit of the game. Goldstein had not only thrown a regulation seven-inning no-hitter, she had come within one out of throwing two consecutive no-hitters in the same game! A quick check of the Sports Fan memory banks revealed that I had never witnessed in person such an individual performance. Anything remotely comparable? Nope – I got nothing. She was that good.

And when, in the 15th inning North Torrance sandwiched two singles around an outfield error to score the winning run, I could not help but feel for Stevie Goldstein in the last game of her high school career. And looking down from the Great Bullpen In The Sky, I’m sure Harvey Haddix did too.

This story does have a happy ending though (and not just for North Torrance fans). In a conversation with a devastated Aquinas parent after the game, I learned that Stevie had already received a softball scholarship to Loyola Marymount University – a scant 10 miles from the World Headquarters of the “It’s Game Time Somewhere”. This is good for Goldstein and good for me, for I have become a Fan. Same time next year, Stevie?

Aquinas coach consoles Goldstein (#13) and team

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