In the eighth inning of Charlotte's 4-1 win over Palm Beach on Saturday, Stone Crabs right-hander Jake Floethe stepped off the rubber to collect himself after falling into a three-ball count.
The 23-year-old right-hander said he almost never hears the crowd when he's on the mound. But as he stepped back Saturday, he heard one fan shouting a friendly reminder: A no-hit bid was on the line.
"In the back of my head, I was like, 'I hope this guy doesn't jinx this,'" Floethe said.
The dreaded no-hit jinx didn't affect Floethe, who navigated the eighth to complete five innings of perfect relief. Unfortunately for the Stone Crabs, Palm Beach's Colin Walsh spoiled the bid for the first no-hitter in team history with a two-out triple in the ninth.
Ramsey lined a shot into right field. For a moment, it looked like Stone Crabs right fielder Drew Vettleson might catch it, but the ball sailed just beyond his glove to break up the no-hitter and shutout bid.
"I think he wanted to catch the ball so bad. I don't know if he lost it in the lights or just overran it and jumped a little early," Stone Crabs manager Brady Williams said. "It wasn't an easy play and it just looked like one of those plays where he looked like he wanted to catch it so bad."
Williams knows how rare it is to participate in a no-hitter. Near the end of the 2000 season, he was an infielder on the Class A Augusta Greenjackets when teammate Eric Glaser hurled a no-hitter against Hagerstown. Two days later, Williams watched as another teammate, Anastacio Martinez, had his no-hit bid end with one out in the ninth. And he hasn't seen one since.
The skipper was obviously pleased with the efforts of Floethe and starter Jesse Hahn.
Hahn, a 2010 sixth-round Draft pick, logged three innings before reaching his pitch count of around 40 as he continues to work his way back from Tommy John surgery prior to the 2011 season. The 23-yea-rold right-hander's fastball flashed in the mid-90s on the stadium gun and his three-pitch mix of fastball, changeup and curveball was working well. He struck out two over three innings and allowed just one baserunner -- Anthony Garcia reached on an error in the first.
"I feel like I'm 100 percent now," Hahn said. "I think I'm actually a lot better than I was before the surgery. I've learned how to pitch more and I've learned a lot in my two or three years with the coaching staff."
Floethe, who posted a 3.31 ERA in 24 starts with Class A Bowling Green last year, had one of the best outings of his career. The sinkerballer fanned two but induced repeated weak contact. Williams estimated Floethe's pitch count at 45 and thought he was as sharp as he'd ever seen him.
"He's been working hard to locate his fastball better," said Williams, who managed Floethe at Bowling Green in 2012. "His fastball command today was the best I've ever seen it and he was moving a lot, too. He had good sink and he could put it where he wanted to."
Floethe's key objective during the offseason was to harness control of his fastball to to pitch in on left-handed hitters more effectively. He's spent a lot of time working with Charlotte pitching coach Bill Moloney and was able to use the pitch as a go-to offering Saturday.
"Being a sinkerballer, I can have trouble getting the ball to that side of the plate," he said. "This offseason, I worked to get my two-seamer to the glove side and it really helped me out today, being able to locate to both sides."
"Obviously, when you get 15 straight outs, he had his command," Moloney said. "Tonight, he just kind of kept it simple. He kept getting the other team swinging and putting it in play, and they put balls right at people. He made it look pretty easy."
Floethe said he realized around the sixth inning that he was part of a no-hitter, although he felt less pressure because he hadn't started the game. He laughed afterwards as he thought back to the heckler in the eighth, remembering a thought he'd had while watching the Yu Darvish of the Texas Rangers come up one out short of a perfect game last week.
"When something happens like that with Darvish, I wonder if someone said something to him," Floethe said. "Darvish did pretty much what he had to do, pound the zone with strikes. Jesse did that for us tonight and we all just kind of followed in his footsteps.
"Giving up the hit with two outs in the ninth was tough to watch, but that's baseball. It was still exciting to be a part of."