Baseball is a superstitious game. Pitchers learn not to step on the foul line when coming off the field. Players know not to talk to a pitcher when he's got a certain something-something going. (They also know to call it a "something-something" and not something else.) Daily routines, once established, are not to be strayed from for fear of bad joojoo.
Jacob Faria knows to pack his rubber duck.
As a senior at Gahir High School in Cerritos, Calif., Faria was on a trip when the hotel he was supposed to stay at messed up his reservation. As a form of apology, the hotel offered him a bag of goodies that included, oddly, a rubber duck. Finding the humor in the situation, Faria carried it around with him as a good-luck charm. He was later taken in the 10th round of the 2011 Draft by the Rays and signed with the club the same year.
He decided to leave the synthetic bird behind in 2012, his first season of pro ball, and was punished for it.
"The one year I didn't have it has been my worst so far," said Faria, who posted a 5.14 ERA in 13 appearances for Rookie-level Princeton that season.
The rubber duck has returned and, because of superstition, karma or just coincidence, so have the results.
With the rubber duck in his locker, Faria took a perfect game into the sixth inning Wednesday afternoon before tossing his first career complete game in Class A Bowling Green's 4-0 win over South Bend in Game 1 of a doubleheader. He tied a season high with six strikeouts and did not issue any free passes in his seven innings.
"This is at the top, this is No. 1 right here," said the right-hander, who admits he keeps the rubber duck in his locker room and throws it in his bag for road trips. "I had a no-hitter into the sixth last year, but as far as my career goes, this was easily my best start."
The 20-year-old starter, who has a fan group on Twitter called @FariasFlock, retired the first 16 Silver Hawks he faced Wednesday before serving up a single to Zach Esquerra with one out in the sixth. Up until that point, he admitted he knew he had a zero in one column but not necessarily all of the columns.
"I knew I hadn't walked anyone, but I didn't notice the hits until after the single and looked up at the scoreboard and saw a one," Faria said. "At that point, I just kind of went, 'Oh' and laughed it off. ... It wasn't a downer or anything too bad. I was kind of bummed for a moment, but right after that, I knew we still had a ballgame to win."
Faria retired the next two batters to complete six innings, matching the longest outing of his career -- a milestone he hit in his previous two outings. After confirming he felt fine and getting the green light from his coaches, the right-hander trotted back out to the mound and got three straight fly outs to complete the one-hit shutout. He finished with an efficient total of 80 pitches.
"It was really command of my fastball and my changeup," said the 6-foot-3 hurler. "Mixing them up helped me keep them off balance out there, and they were both on throughout the game. I didn't even think I had good curveball command, but it was good enough to give me a third pitch and keep them guessing."
Faria is 1-1 with a 1.98 ERA through his first five Midwest League starts. He's struck out 22, walked only three and has held opposing batters to a .175 average across 27 1/3 innings.
After spending the previous Aprils in extended spring training where he waited for the Appalachian League season to begin, the right-hander admitted that it took some time to adjust to playing from the get-go. But with a month of experience under his belt (and maybe some help from a lucky duck in his locker), he seems to have settled in.
"It's gone well so far, I think," Faria said. "I was so used to being back in Florida for extended that it took a while to fall into a routine and get ready to be at the park every day. ... The first week was kinda weird -- you have to learn what time to get to sleep, when to show up, how to get ready every day. Now, it's pretty much set, and it's working."
D-backs' No. 2 prospect Braden Shipley (1-2) took the loss after giving up four earned runs on nine hits in five innings for South Bend.
Bowling Green completed the sweep with a 13-7 shellacking of the Silver Hawks in the nightcap of the twinbil.