The last no-hitter worked by an Atlanta Brave came on a Friday night at a ballpark in California. The date was April 8, 1994. The place was Dodger Stadium. The author was Kent Mercker, the least accomplished pitcher in that rotation.
Twenty-three years, two months and 22 days later, the man who began this season as the least accomplished member of this rotation retired 24 A’s at the Oakland Coliseum without yielding a hit. On his 119th pitch, Mike Foltynewicz saw his no-hitter undone by Matt Olson, who was hitting .154 when he led off the ninth.
Credit where it’s due. Olson had a tremendous at-bat. He took two curves off the plate. He fouled off a fastball. He fouled off another curve. He fouled off a 95-mph four-seamer. He took another fastball, this one very close, for Ball 3. He fouled off a slider. He fouled off a fastball.
Olson had seen 24 pitches on the night, eight in this at-bat. He'd grounded to first, lined to left -- that was the closest the A's had come to a hit -- and struck out swinging in his first three trips. He'd seen everything Foltynewicz had. More to the point, Foltynewicz had thrown eight pitches in the ninth inning of a big-league game. He was at 118. He’d never been beyond 112 before. He'd never worked a complete game.
Still hasn't. The ninth pitch to Olson had oomph – 94 mph – and bore inside at belt level to the left-handed hitter. Tyler Flowers wanted it inside but down. (Two-seamers are supposed to sink.) At impact, you pretty much knew. Nick Markakis turned in right field but could only watch it sail. This no-no became a no-go.
Even in disappointment – if eight innings of one-hit ball in a 3-1 victory can be deemed as such – this game showed us again why getting Foltynewicz from the Astros in the Evan Gattis trade was a big deal. He has big-time stuff. There are still nights when he can’t quite harness it – he was coming off a winning start against Milwaukee that saw him need 104 pitches to get through five innings – but when he does he’s something.
Watching from the couch, I really thought Foltynewicz would do the deed. The key pitch – at least to me -- was the slider he threw to retire Jacob Brugman in the eighth. The inning had begun with a four-pitch walk to Rajai Davis. Jaycob Brugman saw six pitches, all fastballs. With the count 3-2, Foltynewicz threw his first non-fastball of the inning, a slider that left Brugman bumfuzzled. Great pitch.
Factoid fun. Mercker was 26 when he worked his full-blown no-hitter. (He’d also thrown the first six-innings of the combined no-hitter against the Padres on Sept. 11, 1991. Mark Wohlers handled the seventh and eighth, Alejandro Pena the ninth. I was in the press box for that one.) Foltynewicz is 25. Mercker walked four that night in Chavez Ravine. The walk to Davis was Foltynewicz's fourth. Mercker threw 131 pitches in his no-hitter. Had he gone the distance, Foltnewicz would have come close to that.
Also: Mercker hailed from Dublin, Ohio, which isn’t far from Columbus; Foltynewicz is from Minooka, Ill., which isn’t far from Joliet. Both were Round 1 draftees. Mercker is left-handed. Foltynewicz has a left hand but doesn’t throw with it.
(Factoid that’s fun perhaps only to me: I viewed the final inning of Mercker’s no-hitter from the Courtyard in Hoover, Ala. Earlier that night, I’d covered Michael Jordan’s minor-league debut with the Birmingham Barons.)
When you get close enough that MLB.com and ESPN are flashing no-hit alerts, you really want to see one. Mike Foltynewicz came within three outs and a too-fat two-seamer to a guy who was born in Atlanta and who played at Parkview High. Small world. Too small, sometimes.
Still further: Bartolo Colon didn't work out. The Braves are moving on.
Further still: The worst pains of rebuilding are behind the Braves.