In a rags-to-riches story worthy of Hollywood, Hillsboro Hops right-hander Kyle Schepel --- signed out of a tryout camp last September --- threw a nine-inning, complete-game no-hitter on Saturday night in a 5-0 win in Boise. And it came in the heat of the pennant race.
Amazingly, Schepel (pronounced "SKAY-pul") had thrown another no-hitter earlier this year, a seven-inning no-no for Class A South Bend (one level above the Short-Season Class A Hops) in game one of a doubleheader against Lansing on April 14th.
The no-hitter kept the Hops' flickering pennant hops alive. Hillsboro remains one game behind Salem-Keizer in the South Division second-half race with two days left. The Hops' elimination number is one --- any Hillsboro loss or Salem-Keizer win on Sunday or Monday would eliminate the Hops and put Boise in the playoffs.
Until the final two innings, Schepel's gem didn't feature the tension which normally builds during a no-hitter. Boise second baseman Danny Lockhart led off the top of the third inning by hitting a routine chopper in front of second base, which caromed off the glove of Hillsboro second baseman Josh Parr --- an obvious error to most observers, but ruled a base hit by the Boise official scorer.
After much consideration, the call was finally changed to an error just prior to the bottom of the eighth inning. While pitching in the bottom of the eighth, Schepel noticed that the hit had been changed to an error, a change that he expected.
"(Throughout the game in the dugout), we all basically knew it was an error," said Schepel, "and we kind of figured it might be reversed."
When he noticed with one out in the eighth that the change had been made, Schepel lost focus momentarily while facing Lockhart again.
"I don't know if I let up or something because I was thinking about it," he said. "I gave up a pretty hard-hit ball to center field. But luckily (Taylor) Ratliff was there to catch it."
He recovered to retire Boise catcher Lance Rymel on a ground-out to third base to end the eighth. And in the ninth inning, he struck out number-nine hitter David Bote, induced leadoff man Shawon Dunston Jr. to ground out to short, and he struck out Carlos Penalver to end it.
Schepel threw just 86 pitches in nine innings, 60 for strikes. He allowed just one baserunner to second base, and went to three balls in the count only once, when he walked Hawks right fielder Yasiel Balaguer in the fifth.
"I was just trying to pound the zone," he said. "My pregame bullpen warm-up, it was pretty brutal. I really couldn't find the zone or anything. In the first inning I was just trying to throw strikes. ... After that I really got my cutter or hard slider, I really got that pitch going, and just keeping them off balance with that, I guess the spin was pretty tight on it."
Incredibly, Schepel's no-hitter was the first nine-inning, complete-game no-no in the Northwest League since July 17, 1990, when Glenn Dishman threw one against Yakima. And it was just the 11th nine-inning solo no-no in the league's 59-year history.
Schepel was backed by some timely hitting, as well as some shoddy fielding by Boise.
The Hawks committed two errors in the top of the third inning, leading to two unearned runs off Boise starter Dillon Maples. George Roberts' fourth-inning double keyed a run-scoring rally, and Brian Billigen doubled home a run in the fifth. The Hops capped the scoring on a Yosbel Gutierrez double in the sixth, followed by a walk, a sacrifice and a wild pitch from Boise reliever Corbin Hoffner.
The game also featured the entertaining ejection of Hillsboro manager Audo Vicente, after he argued an infield-fly-rule call in the top of the fourth. When he was tossed, Vicente showed his displeasure by covering home plate with dirt.
As the game wore on, it became apparent the Hops were unlikely to get much help from Eugene on this night. They lost at Salem-Keizer 7-1, dropping Hillsboro's elimination number to one. Salem-Keizer, the first-half champion, leads the second half by a game over the Hops and two over Boise with two days remaining. If Salem-Keizer should win both halves, Boise --- which has the next-best season-long winning percentage-would be their playoff opponent.
One bit of bad news for the Hops came in the bottom of the fourth inning, when left-fielder Yogey Perez-Ramos left the game with an undisclosed injury. Perez-Ramos leads the Northwest League in hitting at .314.
But not much could spoil this night for the Hops, nor for Kyle Schepel after his second no-hitter of the year.
"It's been a fun ride so far," he said. "Now we're just trying to make a good playoff push."
Note: The Hops have now had two nine-inning complete-game shutouts in the past nine games (Ross Gerdeman tossed one at Eugene on August 22). The predecessor to the Hops, the Yakima Bears, had just one complete-game shutout of any length in their entire 23-year history --- a pitcher named Fausto Tatis threw one in Yakima's first year in the league, 1990.