Will Smith and Kelvin Herrera combined on the first no-hitter in Northwest Arkansas Naturals' franchise history, a game that featured just one unearned run and also the first triple play turned by the Naturals as they topped their in-state rival Arkansas Travelers by the 1-0 final.
Nearly one year to the day that Smith, a former Travelers pitcher, was dealt in a trade to the Kansas City Royals' organization hours before a start against Northwest Arkansas, he faced the minimum number of his former teammates through his seven innings of work. Smith (8-7) retired the first 15 batters in a row before Clay Fuller and Orlando Mercado walked to begin Travelers' sixth.
What followed was a grounder off the bat of light hitting backstop Alberto Rosario to Naturals' third baseman Mario Lisson, who deftly stepped on third for the force on Fuller and flipped onto second baseman Jeff Bianchi, who relayed it to Jamie Romak just in time to get the slow-footed Rosario at first base, completing the Naturals' first ever triple play.
Smith, who fanned five, did not continue past the seventh, having tossed 101 pitches, tying a season high for the southpaw. He threw 62 of those pitches for strikes. Kelvin Herrera fanned two in his two frames for his team-leading seventh save to complete the no-hit bid for the Naturals (11-13, 46-45).
Had it not been for the first two of four errors committed by the Travelers' defense, the game would have seen extra innings as Travelers' starter Matt Shoemaker, a non-drafted free agent who entered the ballgame leading the Texas League in ERA, was nearly Smith's equal on the bump.
But North Little Rock (13-11, 49-42) did commit those errors, and, as it turned out, the Naturals got all they would need offensively in the first inning, before Smith had even finished his warm-ups in the bullpen. With one out in the first, Christian Colon reached on a fielding error by Travelers' third baseman Luis Jimenez, who bobbled the ball and then threw wide of the first base bag, allowing Colon to reach second. Shoemaker fanned Wil Myers, and then Jamie Romak laced a single into center that Colon was just able to beat out.
Shoemaker (8-2), a Texas League All-Star and the owner of four complete games this season, went the distance for a fifth game as he allowed just five hits and the lone unearned run. He fanned eight and did not issue a single walk as he suffered the hard luck loss.
In three seasons, the Naturals have had a couple of near-misses for no-hitters, the most recent being on August 26, 2010 in a game at Hammons Field against the Cardinals. John Lamb had tossed 6 1/3 hitless frames and Rowdy Hardy needed just one out, but Springfield's Andrew Brown took him deep to break up both the no-hit bid and the shutout.
Wednesday night, the series continues as hard throwing right-hander Jeremy Jeffress makes his Naturals' debut. Jeffress was one of the players acquired in last December's trade that sent former Cy Young Winner Zack Greinke to the Milwaukee Brewers, and he was assigned to the Naturals on Tuesday as the Royals look to convert him into a starting pitcher. He'll face Travs' right-hander Garrett Richards (10-1, 3.27). Game time is 7 P.M. and you can catch the action on ESPN 92.1 The Ticket.