Ken Forsch of the Houston Astros pitched the earliest no-hitter of any major league season tonight, beating the Atlanta Braves, 6-0, and joining his brother, Bob, among no-hit hurlers.

They are the first brothers to have pitched major league no-hitters. Bob Forsch, of the St. Louis Cardinals, did it last April 16, beating the Philadelphia Phillies, 5-0.

Ken Forsch, 32, three years the older, missed a perfect game by only two batters. He walked leadoff hitter Jeff Burroughs in the second inning on a 3-1 pitch and Barry Bonnell with two out in the eighth, also on a 3-1 pitch.

"I realized I had the no-hitter way back in the third inning, and in the seventh I smelled it," said the Astros' right-hander.

"I figure that my rhythm was going so well there was no way they were going to get a hit. Now I'm gonna try to pitch another one this year."

That would be excellent progress for the eight-year veteran, who started two games in spring training and allowed 27 hits in 10 innings. His lifetime record is 55-62.

"After the spring I had, I figured I got it all out of my system," said Forsch.

"Riding three RBI from his batterymate, Alan Ashby, he pitches with such precision that only Jerry Royster came even close to getting a hit.

"I thought it was going to be all the way," Forsch said, referring to Royster's ninth-inning line drive that carried well foul down the left-field line as the Astrodome crowd of 24,325 momentarily groaned.

Ashby, acquired from Toronto in an offseason deal, "was just great; it helped a lot having a veteran catcher like that," said Forsch. "But it also helped a lot when he drove in three runs. That gives me some insurance and I don't have to gamble and pitch around anybody."

Bob Forsch learned of his brother's feat from a St. Louis team official.

"That's just great, isn't it?" the Cardinal's pitcher said. "I think it's fantastic. Now that we're the first brother act, it's unbelievable ... just fantastic."

In the ninth inning, Forsch faced pinch-hitter Rowland Office and got him on a weak grounder to second base. Royster, after the line drive, bounced out easily to short. With the crowd cheering wildly, Forsch paused briefly before facing Glenn Hubbard, who grounded to short.

While Forsch's was the earliest no-hitter in big league annals, Bob Feller of the Cleveland Indians pitched a no-hitter on opening oay in 1940, April 16.

The last Astro to pitch a no-hitter was Larry Dierker, who blanked Montreal, 6-0, in Houston on July 9, 1976.

The Astros scored the only runs they needed in the first inning when Terry Puhl led off with a single off loser Larry McWilliams, Craig Reynolds sacrificed him to second and Cesar Cedeno Doubled down the left-field line to drive in Puhl. Enos Cabell's single scored Cedeno. CAPTION: Picture, Ken Forsh