Gross was a 31-year-old journeyman in his second season with the Dodgers in 1992. He entered the game on Aug. 17 against the rival Giants just 5-12 though with a respectable 3.59 ERA in his 25 games, including 21 starts.
“I told my coaches before the game I’ve never understood why this guy didn’t win more ballgames,” San Francisco manager Roger Craig told the Associated Press after the no-hitter. “He’s a big, strong guy and he’s got outstanding stuff. His fastball is not what you’d call 93, 94, 95, but it moves so good.”
The Dodgers signed the southern California native Gross to a three-year, $6.4 million contract before the 1991 season after the right-hander pitched eight seasons for the Phillies and Expos. Before his no-hitter against the Giants, Gross was more well known for a dubious incident five years earlier, even mentioned in multiple game reports of the no-hitter. From the New York Times:
Until tonight, Gross was perhaps best known for a 10-day suspension in 1987 when he was caught with sandpaper in his glove while pitching for the Phillies.
Gross was known to me and my cousin for the way he would lift his arms on the mound to stretch out his jersey sleeves, a move I had down pat as a teenager.
Through 1991, Gross had a career 94 ERA+. His 110 ERA+ in 1992 was the best of his 15-year career, but the relative ordinary nature of Gross made him a perfect candidate to throw a no-hitter, according to legendary Los Angeles Times columnist Jim Murray:
You probably have those days at the office when everything goes right. It's a situation where you can't seem to make a mistake--but, when you try to remember how you did it, you can't.
A pitcher in a no-hit game has to have a sense of power and command of a guy on a bombing run against a helpless target. Golfers and tennis players refer to it as being "in the zone," a semi-out-of-body experience in which the body takes over like the instrument panel of an aircraft in a thick fog.
When Kevin Gross threw his no-hitter recently for the Dodgers, he fit the profile so perfectly, he might have gone into the game as a bookie's choice. Veteran pitcher, good stuff, uncertain record (95-112 the night he took the mound).
On Aug. 12 in Cincinnati, Gross didn’t allow a hit until the fifth inning. With one out, he allowed two singles then grooved a 3-0 fastball that Reds catcher Joe Oliver blasted for a three-run home run to send Gross and the Dodgers to a 3-2 loss.
"I wasn't even thinking about a no-hitter, it was too early," Gross told reporters, per the LA Times game recap. "After the first hit, I just wanted to keep things quiet."
Five days later, Gross was able to limit the noise.
Gross started his night against the Giants with three ground outs in a seven-pitch first inning, a harbinger for the rest of the night that would see him record 12 ground ball outs.
This was a terrible season for the Dodgers, who entered the Aug. 17 game at 49-68 and losers of eight of their last 11. But it would get much worse. The no-hitter was the first of three straight wins for the Dodgers, but after that they dropped 31 of their last 42 games to finish in last place for the first time since 1905.
The Dodgers lost the first three games of the series against the Giants, and needed the no-hitter to avoid their first four-game sweep loss at home to their rivals since 1923.
Walks to Cory Snyder and Matt Williams in the second gave the Giants a threat, but Gross got Kirt Manwaring to roll over to shortstop for an inning-ending double play.
Remember when Chris Berman nicknames were the rage? Kirt “what is that” Manwaring was one of my favorites.
The double play started a string for Gross of 19 consecutive batters retired, including five strikeouts. The Dodgers scored single runs in the second and fourth innings, with a solo home run by rookie first baseman Eric Karros and an RBI single by Henry Rodriguez.
There were two near hits by the Giants, the first a line drive by Robby Thompson to lead off the eighth inning, but it was snagged by erratic shortstop Jose Offerman, who would make 42 errors in his first full season.
The only thing more improbable was that his magical night was saved by shortstop Jose Offerman, who leads the majors with 32 errors but did not miss either of two tough chances in the late innings.
In the eighth, in what will rank as the play of the game, Offerman leaped to his right and backhanded a line drive by Robby Thompson. Half of the ball was sticking out of Offerman's glove after he brought it down.
"After Offie caught the line drive, he came in and said, 'We're going to get it,' " Gross said.
With one out in the ninth, Offerman then grabbed a grounder up the middle by Greg Litton to force Mark Leonard at second base after Leonard had been hit in the knee by a pitch.
The final out of the no-hitter was hit by Willie McGee, who has Pedro Guerrero’s 1985 MVP and Eddie Murray’s 1990 batting title in his trophy case. McGee’s soft liner to left fell harmlessly into the glove of Mitch Webster in left field, and Gross threw his arms into the air.
Gross’ no-hitter came on his wife Tamara’s 27th birthday, noted by Vin Scully on the call.
“The Dodgers mob the big right-hander, and happy birthday Mrs. Kevin Gross,” Scully said. “Tomorrow it’s a birthday to remember all your lives together.”
The no-hitter for Gross was the 18th in Dodgers history, and the franchise’s sixth against the rival Giants.
Gross pitched through 1994 with the Dodgers, winning 40 games with a 102 ERA+ in his four seasons with Los Angeles, his best ERA+ among his five major league teams.
Home run: Eric Karros (17)
WP - Kevin Gross (6-12): 9 IP, 2 walks, 6 strikeouts
LP - Francisco Oliveras (0-2): 5 IP, 4 hits, 2 runs, 2 walks, 2 strikeouts