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Naturals toss no-no, turn triple play
Rarest of rare feats earns Double-A Game of the Year honors
10/31/2011 10:00 AM ET
Will Smith took a perfect game into the sixth inning.
Will Smith took a perfect game into the sixth inning. (Shawn E. Davis/MiLB.com)
During the 2011 season, the Northwest Arkansas Naturals experienced both the first no-hitter and the first triple play in franchise history. Making these notable events far more memorable, and possibly unprecedented, was that they both occurred in the same game.

On July 19, Will Smith and Kelvin Herrera's combined no-hitter was aided by a sixth-inning around-the-horn triple play as the Naturals eked out a 1-0 win over the arch-rival Arkansas Travelers. This chain of epochal events resulted in the contest receiving the MiLBY Award for "Double-A Game of the Year."


Brad Peacock fans 14

Brad Peacock hit double digits in strikeouts for the second time as a pro May 13, punching out a career-high 14 as Double-A Harrisburg bested Richmond, 5-2. The Nats right-hander fanned one in the first, two each in the second and third, then struck out the side in the fourth. He rang up another victim in the fifth, two more in the sixth and struck out the side again in the seventh. He finished 2011 with 177 punchouts over 146 2/3 innings across two Minor League levels.
A no-hitter and triple play in the same game is clearly a rare occurrence, but just how rare is it? For some perspective, consider this: The feat had never before been accomplished in the 123-year history of the Texas League, or furthermore within the storied annals of Major League Baseball. And while the spotty nature of Minor League record keeping makes it impossible to say with complete certainty, this might have been the first time it occurred within the history of professional baseball.

The man most responsible for creating this unique and somewhat enigmatic slice of history would be Smith, who started the ballgame and hurled seven no-hit frames. Smith admits that he toed the slab that evening with a "chip on my shoulder," as the Travelers, an Angels affiliate, were his former team. The 22-year-old right-hander was traded from the Angels to the Royals organization in July 2010, as part of the deal that brought Alberto Callaspo to Anaheim.

"[The Travelers] had beaten me up pretty bad when I'd faced them in the past," said Smith, who went 0-3 with a 6.60 ERA in his first three starts against Arkansas. "I could see all my old buddies sitting over there in the [Arkansas] dugout, so I just went out there with a plan to attack. My fastball was working from the start, it was moving in and out, and if you can locate your fastball that's a recipe for success.

"It was just one of those nights where you have everything working for you," added Smith. "The defense was making great plays, and me and [catcher] Salvador Perez were on the same page. Once the two of us get on the same page, it's tough to take us off of it."

Smith retired the first 15 batters he faced, and at that point, knew he might be on the brink of something special.

"If a guy says he doesn't know he has a no-hitter going on, he's lying," said Smith. "You can't help but know it's happening. Going out there for the sixth, that's when it really set in."

The pressure-packed situation -- throwing a no-hitter while clinging to a 1-0 lead -- may have led to a slight case of the jitters. For Smith momentarily lost his command, walking the first two batters of the inning. At this juncture of the ballgame, Naturals manager Brian Poldberg conceded that the no-hitter wasn't on his mind. All the veteran skipper was concerned about was escaping the inning with the lead somehow still intact.

"I wasn't watching the hits too much, because after those two walks, you're thinking that things are about to change," said Poldberg. "But then there's a hard-hit ground ball to third, 5-4-3 for the triple play. It's just one of those times that it all worked out."

This momentous grounder was hit by Travelers catcher Alberto Rosario and fielded by third baseman Mario Lisson, who stepped on third to begin what would become the first triple play in franchise history.

"It's hard to explain that one, just a case of right place, right time and the right kind of runners on base," said Smith. "I was in shock at first, like 'Did we just turn a triple play?' But then in the dugout, everybody was going crazy. It really picked up the team and made me want to go back out there and finish it out."

Smith did complete the seventh, at which point he had thrown a season-high 101 pitches.

"I know with the Royals [organization] we have pitch counts and all that, but I thought maybe if something like this was going on they'd make an exception," said Smith. "But after the seventh [Poldberg] came over and shook my hand and it was like 'Really?'

"I didn't say anything, because you're not supposed to talk about [a no-hitter in progress], but I nudged my head in the direction of the scoreboard. ... It took me a few days to realize that they're looking out for us. This game means something, but what we are all hoping for is a long and successful big league career."

Clearly, Smith had absorbed the lessons of his manager.

"It's great to get a no-hitter in Double-A, but 10 years from now, no one is going to remember a Double-A no-hitter," said Poldberg, who has managed the Naturals in all four seasons of their existence. "In the moment, it can be hard for the younger players to see that."

And when it came time to choose who should succeed Smith in the ballgame, the answer was obvious. Herrera was dominant throughout the 2011 campaign, starting with Class A Advanced Wilmington and ending the season with a Kansas City cameo. The 21-year-old flamethrower is now suiting up for Leones del Escogido in his native Dominican Republic.

"Herrera was lights-out the whole year, a guy whose fastball sits at 97-100," said Smith. "Knowing that he was coming in made [watching the eighth and ninth innings] a little easier. It was still nerve-wracking, but I had faith and he and Salvador just went out there and ran with it."

Herrera struck out the first two batters he faced and then induced the final four Travelers hitters to ground out. The result was his seventh save of the season and, more importantly, the first no-hitter in Naturals history.

"My teammates would still make fun of me, saying I pitched a high school no-hitter because I only went seven innings," said Smith. "But it's been a good thing. Now when people ask me how my season went, I can say 'Well, I threw a no-hitter.'"

Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.
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