Bottom of the eighth inning, one out, and the home team at Fenway Park remained hitless.

Rico Brogna came to bat and worked a 2-1 count against Seattle Mariners right-hander Paul Abbott. Behind the plate, catcher Joe Oliver squatted and put down one finger, calling for a fastball.

A fastball made sense.

“We had a 3-0 lead. It was a 2-1 count. You don’t want to go 3-1. You don’t want to walk him,” Abbott said.

Paul Abbott came close. The current pitching coach of the Portland Sea Dogs teamed up with catcher Joe Oliver – the current manager in Portland – and nearly threw a no-hitter at Fenway Park against the Red Sox in 2000. Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

But Abbott looked unsure.

“It obviously was a pitch he didn’t agree with,” Oliver said. “What I always tell him, the first seven innings were pretty good with what I was putting down.”

That’s what Abbott figured, too. “Everything was working,” he said. But his no-hit bid vanished on the next pitch.

“I threw fastball away,” Abbott said. “He hit a little 20-hopper up the middle. A-Rod (shortstop Alex Rodriguez) just missed it and that was it. It was a dumb pitch. I’m mad still to this day.

“I should have been more selfish. I should have thrown a change-up.”

Abbott got the win that day, Sept. 3, 2000, when Seattle beat the Boston Red Sox, 5-0. If Abbott still wants to talk about that game, or that pitch, he need only cross the hallway in the Portland Sea Dogs clubhouse to the manager’s office, where Oliver sits.

Abbott, 51, is the Sea Dogs pitching coach. He and Oliver, 53, have coached together in the Red Sox organization for three years – two seasons in advanced Class A Salem (2016-17), and this year after Oliver was named Portland’s manager.

“We had an immediate relationship from playing together, and it just carries over,” Oliver said.

The two of them first teamed up in 1998 when both were hoping to salvage their careers – Oliver trying to hold on, in his 10th major league season; Abbott trying to emerge after being stuck in the minors.

“I was hanging on by my pinky nail,” Abbott said.


Abbott was a third-round draft pick by the Twins in 1985, out of Sunny Hills High in Fullerton, California. He reached the majors in 1990 and bounced between Triple-A and Minnesota for three seasons (5.03 ERA). The Twins released him in the spring training of 1993, and he signed with the Indians. He made five major league starts (6.38 ERA) for Cleveland, his last on July 5.

That would be Abbott’s last big league appearance for five years, as he pitched in the minors for the Royals (’94), Cubs (’95), Padres (’96) and Mariners (’97).

But Abbott was always fighting injuries – “I separated my shoulder three times” – and 1997 would be no different. Abbott looked ready to get back to the majors with Seattle, but his elbow became an issue.

“I got off to a fast start in (Triple-A) Tacoma,” he said. “I threw eight scoreless against the Twins’ Triple-A team, but I felt something (in the elbow) in the sixth inning. I kept pitching for two more innings. I got through it.

“The next day, they tell me they’re going to call me up, along with Derek Lowe and Mike Maddux. But when I go out to throw my side (session), I couldn’t do it (because of the elbow).

“And, sure enough, they call up Derek Lowe and Mike Maddox, and I went on the DL. Rehabbed for two months. I tried my best to avoid (Tommy John surgery). Then I won four in a row and was about to get called up again. But in the fifth start, it (the elbow) went and I had to have surgery. I was 30 years old.”

Abbott faced a crossroads in rehab.

“I wasted five years (in the minors). I rededicated my whole life to the game. I changed my diet. Changed my work habits,” Abbott said. “I used to be like a lot of guys, looking outside to see if it was raining so I didn’t have to run. Then I was the guy running in the rain.

“My fitness and everything changed. The results were showing.”

Abbott began 1998 in rehab with hopes of pitching a few games in the minors by August. He did, but those “few games” turned into quality starts, with the fastball up to 96 mph. After three Triple-A starts, Abbott got the call to Seattle.

“I was back,” he said.

On Sept. 9, 1998, Abbott got his first major league start in more than five years and won, a 5-2 victory over Tampa Bay. Abbott’s catcher was Joe Oliver.

“He had control,” Oliver said. “He was able to put the ball where he wanted to, throwing his changeup or breaking ball (slider) anytime he wanted to.”

Oliver caught Abbott one more time that season – another win – before moving on to the Rays as a free agent in 1999.


The Cincinnati Reds drafted Oliver in the second round in 1983, out of Orlando Boone High School. In 1989, he reached the majors, supposedly on a temporary assignment to fill in for the injured Bo Diaz. But Diaz never came back. Oliver began a major league career that spanned 13 years. The highlight came quickly when the Reds, managed by Lou Pinella, swept Oakland in the 1990 World Series.

In Game 2, Cincinnati won 5-4 in the 10th inning on Oliver’s walk-off RBI single off Dennis Eckersley.

Joe Oliver, current manager of the Portland Sea Dogs, had the winning hit in the 10th inning in Game 2 of the 1990 World Series. Rusty Kennedy/Associated Press

Oliver signed with the Brewers in 1995, and then re-signed with the Reds in 1996-97 before leaving as a free agent, joining Detroit in 1998. The Tigers cut him in July, and Seattle, managed by Pinella, signed him a week later.

After closing out the season with the Mariners – and catching Abbott for the first time – Oliver was on the move again, first to Tampa Bay, and then (in a trade) to Pittsburgh.

In 2000, Oliver needed a job. The Mariners signed him to a minor league contract. After one catcher was injured in spring training, Oliver made the major league team and, after another injury, he became the starting catcher.

“Not bad for a guy with a minor league invite who had been written off,” Oliver said.

Oliver was reunited with Abbott, who was now established in the Mariners’ rotation. Seattle was on its way to the playoffs that season and faced the contending Red Sox in September. It was a mild, 69-degree Sunday afternoon when Abbott faced Boston and it’s lineup that featured Trot Nixon, Nomar Garciaparra, Carl Everett, Dante Bichette, Tory O’Leary and Jason Varitek.

John Olerud gave Seattle a 2-0 lead in the first with a two-run double off Tomo Ohka. Abbott cruised from there.

“We (Oliver and him) were in sync,” Abbott said. “It was fun. It was awesome, and it was in Boston.

“From the fourth inning on, every time I went out, fans were yelling, ‘you’re going to give it this time, Abbott. You’re going to give up a hit.’”

Oliver never caught a no-hitter in the majors (in 1993, he caught a no-hit bid by Tim Pugh that was broken up in the ninth).

In Boston, all of Oliver’s superstitions were in play.

“I was trying to sit in the same spot, put my glove down in the same place, put my gear down in a certain way,” he said.

Leading off the eighth, Varitek hit a blast to right field, but it was caught on the warning track.

Brogna followed and singled up the middle.

“If it was today, the shift would have been on and it would have been caught,” Abbott said with a laugh. After another out, Abbott walked two batters and left the game.

“When they took me out, I got a standing ovation – from the same guys who were yelling at me the whole game. That was pretty cool.”

Abbott would pitch four more seasons, ending with the Phillies. He began coaching shortly after, and joined the Red Sox organization in 2011.

Oliver played only one more season, with both the Yankees and Red Sox (five games) in 2001. He stayed away from coaching for years, opting for family time.

Oliver’s oldest son, Dejai, was drafted by the Marlins and was pitching in low Class A Greensboro in 2013. Oliver traveled to watch Greensboro play the Red Sox affiliate from Greenville, S.C. Abbott was the pitching coach.

“It kind of got me the fever – that’s what I wanted to do,” Oliver said. “I raised my family. It was time.”

Oliver joined the Red Sox in 2014 as the manager of short-season Lowell. He was back with Abbott two years later.

“It’s been a great situation,” Abbott said.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.