Still working his way back into shape during an injury-plagued season, Brandon Erbe was three outs away from having a no-hitter to call all his own Thursday night.
But the 21-year-old right-hander was pulled after eight masterful innings and the Bowie bullpen couldn't finish off the job as the Baysox settled for a combined three-hitter in a 7-1 victory over the New Hampshire Fisher Cats at Merchantsauto.com Stadium.
"It was difficult, but it's kind of the way things go," said Erbe, who threw a season-high 108 pitches before leaving the mound.
"I understand it's based on the fact that I was on the disabled list for a month-and-a-half. It was the first time this year I was in the eighth inning, so it was encouraging from that perspective, but bittersweet."
Erbe (3-3), the Orioles' third-round pick in the 2005 Draft, cited shoulder fatigue and an ankle injury for his abbreviated campaign. But the former three-time Carolina League Pitcher of the Week has an elaborate history with near no-hitters.
After working the first six frames in a combined no-hitter for Class A Advanced Frederick on Aug. 5, 2008, Erbe also flirted with no-hit bids with the Keys three times over the previous two seasons, but was denied a chance to go the distance on those occasions as well.
"It helps knowing that you've kind of been down that road," Erbe said. "I'd never been to the eighth [with a no-hitter], but the defense tonight was unbelievable. From the third or fourth inning, when guys starting making plays, you realize what's going on."
Erbe tossed six or more no-hit innings twice with Frederick in 2007. He fired seven no-hit frames with nine strikeouts for the Keys against Wilmington on June 11, 2008.
Things appeared to be lining up in Erbe's favor on Thursday as he mowed down the first eight batters before issuing the first of his three walks to Bryan Kervin with two outs in the third.
Erbe got Todd Donovan on a flyout to center field to end the frame before working around another two-out walk in the fourth.
The 6-foot-4, 180-pound Maryland native settled into a groove thereafter, facing the minimum over the next 3 1/3 frames. He walked Brian Jeroloman to lead off the eighth, but got Al Quintana to hit into a double play before Jonathan Diaz flew out to center to end the inning.
Limited to only 13 starts thus far this season due to the injuries, Erbe may have been allowed to go the distance if the organization wasn't keeping him on a tight pitch count. After his departure, the Bowie bullpen failed to complete his gem.
"I understand the decision-making," Erbe said. "That's just the way the game goes. When you play the game long enough, you understand that things happen. Unfortunately things didn't pan out for the ninth inning."
They certainly didn't.
Jim Hoey came on and got Kervin to fly out to left, but Todd Donovan and Adam Calderone followed with back-to-back singles before Brad Emaus ended the shutout bid with a base hit to center.
Hoey fanned David Cooper, but walked Darin Mastroianni. Then Chad Thall entered the game to get Jeroloman on a comebacker for the final out.
Erbe, who went 0-1 with a 4.61 ERA in four starts with short-season Aberdeen from June 21-July 6 while working his shoulder back into shape, has been building up strength over his first four starts since returning to Bowie on July 12.
He yielded five runs on 10 hits over seven innings in his first two outings before tossing a six-inning complete game in a 12-2 victory over Reading on July 5 in a game called early due to lightning. On July 30, Erbe limited Connecticut to two runs on four hits over 6 2/3 innings.
"It's encouraging and it feels good, aside from the way the game went," he said. "Just because I'm able to go out and get deep into games again. I just hope I finish the year healthy and get back at it again next year."
John Torenli is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.