This is my 30th baseball season in Atlanta, and I’ve never covered a no-hitter worked by a single Braves pitcher. I witnessed the Kent Mercker/Mark Wohlers/Alejandro Pena effort of Sept. 11, 1991, but because it involved three pitchers and one iffy scoring decision, I’ve never fully counted it.
The only no-hitter thrown by one Brave in my time here came on April 8, 1994. The aforementioned Mercker did the deed in Dodger Stadium that Friday night. I watched it from the Courtyard in Hoover, Ala., having just attended the minor-league debut of one Michael Jordan.
I cite cases because I really thought Wednesday was the day. I thought it — I swear — from the third batter of the first inning. Julio Teheran was working to Andrew McCutchen, and the Pirates’ best hitter was doing well to foul pitches off. (He wound up striking out.) I almost Tweeted something along the lines of, “Teheran has no-hit stuff today,” but I didn’t for fear of my not-inconsiderable reputation as a jinx.
Do baseball folks believe in jinxes? Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said afterward: “I started out chewing gum, and I usually switch from gum to (sunflower) seeds during the game. Today I stayed with one piece of gum for 2 1/2 hours. My jaw is killing me.”
I did not chew gum. (Nor, for the record, did I move from my seat, and usually I get up every couple of innings.) I charted pitches, fully believing this would be a score sheet I’d keep. I noted that Teheran registered 11 swing-and-misses his first time through the order. Said Gerald Laird, who was catching: “He had a lot of late movement.”
The Pirates finally generated a base runner when McCutchen walked on a 3-2 pitch in the fourth. They didn’t swing-and-miss as much in the middle innings — only three swinging strikeouts from the fourth through the sixth, as opposed to six in the first three innings — but they hit only one fair ball with any oomph. (Travis Snider’s line-drive out to B.J. Upton in the fourth.)
Through six innings, they hadn’t managed a sharp ground ball — or a grounder of any kind. Teheran was either striking somebody out or inducing a pop. (Stat geek note: The first Braves’ assist came when Teheran picked off Starling Marte, who was plunked, in the sixth.)
The Braves pushed a one-run lead to 3-0 in the bottom of that inning, which allowed Teheran to relax and slip into higher gear. He threw 14 pitches in the seventh, 12 of them strikes. He was six outs away.
Then five: Russell Martin led off the eighth with two swing-and-misses before grounding to short. Then four: Clint Barmes struck out on three pitches. “He was pretty much doing anything he wanted,” Laird said.
The Pirates had watched Teheran for 7 2/3 innings without having an idea what was coming next. His fastball was hitting 94 mph, and he was throwing his slider (middle 80s) and his change-up (low 80s) and his curveball (low 70s) for strikes. There aren’t many true four-pitchers, but this 22-year-old is becoming one. As Laird said, “We’d get to 3-2, and I’d call a slider.”
Four outs to go. Brandon Inge pinch-hit. Laird knows Inge well, having worked alongside him in Detroit. Teheran threw a slider. Called strike. Another slider. Taken for Teheran’s first ball of the inning.
Pitcher and catcher thought they had set up Inge for a fastball on the outer half. Teheran’s 102nd pitch of the day arrived outside, but higher than where Laird set his target. Inge poked it into left field. The no-hitter was gone.
What flashed through Teheran’s mind? “I was just thinking, ‘Get out of the inning and cheer up.’” He managed to do both, Marte popping out to short. Teheran’s day was done: Eight innings, no runs, one lousy hit.
I’ve seen Braves’ pitchers throw one-hitters before — Tom Glavine authored eight innings with one hit in the clinching game of the 1995 World Series — but this was the first time I’d covered a game in which I thought a no-hitter wasn’t just possible, but actually about to happen. That it didn’t rendered the day a jumble of emotions: breathtaking performance, deflating ending.
This wouldn’t have been a no-hitter in which fielders turned somersaults to save the day. This would have been totally deserved. Said Laird: “He definitely had good enough stuff.”
Ah, well. There’s always tomorrow. If the past few weeks are any indication, it won’t be the last time Julio Teheran carries a no-hitter into the shank of a ballgame. Conventional wisdom holds that the Braves don’t really have a No. 1 starter. They might before long.