Tyler Wilson pitched nine perfect innings, but a lot changed between the first four and final five.
Eight days after retiring all 12 batters he faced for Baltimore and a day after returning to Triple-A, Wilson did not allow a baserunner over five innings as Norfolk fell two outs short of a perfect game in a 6-0 blanking of Durham on Wednesday.
"Honestly, I was just excited to be able to go out and compete again and work on things and pitch," the 26-year-old right-hander said. "I'm prepared to compete in any capacity and I'm thankful for any opportunity to pitch, wherever that may be, and I'm going to take advantage of any opportunity that it is. I'm focused on getting better, I'm focused on the task at hand every day, regardless of the setting."
Back in the International League after his fourth stint in the Majors this year, Wilson (1-0) threw first-pitch strikes to nine of the 15 Bulls he set down, fanned six and averaged 11.2 pitches an inning.
"I felt from the start I felt like I wanted to throw strikes and challenge contact and let the guys play behind me," he said. "I know we executed strikes early in the count and went for the strikeout when the situation dictated it. Just felt good. [Catcher] Francisco Pena did a great job behind the plate, like he always does, and it was easy to work with him."
Having not pitched since July 26 at Camden Yards, Wilson was given five innings to work with, a restriction he accepted. While the University of Virginia product has made 13 starts and four relief appearances across two levels this season, he hasn't pitched more than five frames since June 21.
"I felt good. Physically, I felt strong, and my delivery felt in sync and I felt like I had command of my stuff … " Wilson said. "For the last couple of years, I learned to adapt to new schedules and new routines. It's great as a starting pitcher to be able to throw every fifth day, but in reality of the game of baseball, routines get broken up all the time, so I really learned to just try to take it a game at a time try to take advantage of each day."
After Wilson exited, Edgar Olmos needed 39 pitches to retire all nine batters he faced, fanning four, as the Tides extended the perfect game into the ninth.
"I thought Eddie threw great, I thought he looked really strong," said Wilson, who watched from the telecast in the clubhouse while icing. "He was throwing his breaking ball for strikes early in the count, was bouncing it when he needed to and he really just had a lot of life to his heater, both in and out. He had really good command, he was just aggressive and attacking the hitters."
Wilson returned to the dugout in time for Tom Gorzelanny to start the ninth inning. The veteran left-hander promptly got Hank Conger to ground out and put the Tides two outs from the first nine-inning perfect game in team history. But Eury Garcia laced aball to third baseman Michael Almanzar, whose error gave the Bulls their first baserunner of the night.
Juniel Querecuto took care of the no-hit bid by knocking a single to left field on a 1-1 offering from Gorzelanny.
"Tom did a great job, made some pitches and guys just hit a couple ground balls that found holes, and that's the game," Wilson said. "That's what makes a perfect game so special is because all too often the pitcher makes a good pitch and a ground ball, a weakly hit ground ball, will find a hole or something. And so to be in that position in the ninth for us, to even be an option, is an accomplishment in itself.
"But just tip your cap to Querecuto and good for [Durham]. They're out there fighting, too, and they obviously don't want that to happen to them, so it was a good effort on both sides of the ball all night long."
Gorzelanny got Jake Hager to line out and struck out Dayron Varona to finish off Norfolk's 11th shutout of the season.
The Tides got homers from Pena, Orioles No. 5 prospect Trey Mancini and Corban Joseph, while No. 11 prospect Christian Walker contributed an RBI single.
Kelsie Heneghan is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @Kelsie_Heneghan.