A Saarloos in the New York Times. / by Keith Saarloos

No one has ever been a greater Motivating Factor in my life than my younger Brother Kirk Saarloos.
*ahem, hall of famer, no hitter, brother...
I mean, How do you compete with that.... 
Hustle is the Game.

“Every once in a while, I joke around about how I threw a no-hitter at Yankee Stadium and that I’m in the Hall of Fame,” Saarloos said. “I leave some of the details out.”

On June 11, 2003, Roy Oswalt, the ace of the Houston Astros’ pitching staff, had to leave a game against the Yankees with a groin pull after the first inning. The Yankee Stadium crowd sat back and waited for the runs to pile up, figuring that the powerful Yankees lineup — Alfonso Soriano, Derek Jeter, Jason Giambi, Jorge Posada, Hideki Matsui — had the whole game to wear out the Astros’ bullpen. 

Instead, what seemed like a potential blowout became the first no-hitter against the Yankees in the Bronx since 1952, and the first no-hitter in history to feature six pitchers — not that any of the Houston pitchers seemed initially aware of what was going on.

With the Astros now in New York for a three-game series that began Monday — a more regular occurrence now that Houston has shifted to the American League — it seems an appropriate time to reflect on that 2003 game and how unusual it was.

The Astros, who are awful now, were a good team then, just two years away from an appearance in the World Series. They had, among other things, one of the better bullpens in baseball, which helps explain what happened that night.

One by one, the Houston relievers headed to the mound, with everyone but Peter Munro pitching in Yankee Stadium for the first time, and one by one they performed admirably.

Munro entered first and kept things steady for two and two-thirds innings. He was relieved by Kirk Saarloos, who went one and a third. He gave way to Brad Lidge, a fireballing young right-hander who had not yet become an elite closer, to start the sixth.

By the fourth inning, the Astros led, 4-0, and as the game progressed, it looked like one of those nights in which the Yankees just did not have it.

But it was only when Lidge joined the other pitchers in the clubhouse, having pitched two innings, that he and the others glanced at the television broadcast of the game and realized that, through seven innings, the Yankees had yet to get a hit.

“Lidge had just come out of the game,” said Saarloos, now an assistant coach at Texas Christian University. “He looked at me, I looked at him, and then without saying anything, we were like: ‘Oh. O.K.’ ”

The pitchers then marveled as Octavio Dotel tied a major league record by striking out four batters in one inning — the eighth — by way of a wild pitch on a strike three to Soriano. By then the Astros were ahead, 6-0. Victory seemed certain; the question was whether there would be a no-hitter.

There was one other issue: the pitchers who had come out of the game were afraid to jinx the no-hitter by leaving the clubhouse and joining their teammates on the bench. So they stayed put and watched Billy Wagner pitch a 1-2-3 ninth to finish the feat. Final score: 8-0. Final numbers for the six Astros pitchers: no hits, 1 hit-by-pitch, 3 walks, 13 strikeouts.

It was the first time the Yankees had been no-hit in 6,980 games — dating to Hoyt Wilhelm’s knuckleball gem for the Baltimore Orioles in September 1958 — and just the seventh time it had happened since the franchise’s inception. No one has no-hit the Yankees since.

Those glory days are a distant memory for Houston. Gone are the perennial All-Stars Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio and Oswalt. They have been replaced with prospects, projects and spare parts.

But in 2003 the Astros had plenty of talent and were in the middle of a stretch of six consecutive seasons with a winning record. Although much of that success can be tied to Bagwell and Biggio, the team’s bullpen was outstanding. Wagner, Dotel and Lidge each struck out more than 10 batters per nine innings that season.

Against the Yankees, with four innings to go before he could realistically bring in his three star relievers, Manager Jimy Williams had to first entrust the game to a pair of less flashy long relievers, Munro and Saarloos. Munro had the unenviable task of warming up on the field after Oswalt’s injury was announced.

“I was a little erratic,” recalled Munro, who issued the three walks and hit the batter. “I was walking some guys, and that was probably why. I just had to compose myself. It’s a good thing I didn’t do too much damage.”

Saarloos, while acknowledging the team’s strong bullpen behind him, was not all that eager to hand the ball over after facing four batters. He had struck out Jeter to end the fifth inning and had thrown only 16 pitches.

“Any pitcher hates when the ball gets taken away from them,” Saarloos said in an interview last week. “For me, I wanted to keep pitching, but it’s not my decision. And the guys who followed me were not too shabby of a back end of a bullpen.”

By baseball’s rules, which pitcher would be awarded the win was up to the official scorer, with only Oswalt ineligible. At the time, Saarloos believed the win was his. But the scorer gave the win to Lidge, who pitched in the sixth and seventh innings, striking out two and not allowing a base runner.

“I was a little disappointed it wasn’t me,” Saarloos said. “I pitched the fifth inning, so I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m going to have my hat in the Hall of Fame,’ because I got the win and was part of it.’ ”

Saarloos speculated that the official scorer might have been aware that Lidge was a big baseball fan, known for his knowledge of the game’s history, and “gave him the win because of it.”

Saarloos and Munro both had their big moment with family members in attendance. Saarloos’s wife and parents had gone to New York for his first trip to Yankee Stadium, and Munro, a New York native, had a number of relatives at the game.

The six pitchers have never organized a reunion to discuss the game, but Saarloos and Munro said it remained a fond memory. Saarloos even heard from people last year during Seattle’s combined no-hitter against the Los Angeles Dodgers, in which the Mariners, too, used six pitchers.

“I really don’t talk about it,” Munro, now a construction worker and a private baseball instructor, said when asked how he described the day. “If I’m hanging out with somebody, they will bring it up. I always say it was six guys. It wasn’t just me.”

But for Saarloos, who coaches college players who were in elementary school on his big day, the fact that it was a group effort is sometimes lost in the retelling.

“Every once in a while, I joke around about how I threw a no-hitter at Yankee Stadium and that I’m in the Hall of Fame,” Saarloos said. “I leave some of the details out.”