It was only 368 days ago that Brad Allen thought his pitching days might be over. On Saturday night, he couldn't have left the field if he wanted, what with 24 teammates gleefully pinning him to the infield grass.
Cut by an independent league team and nearly missing the entire 2012 season, Allen signed with the Frontier League's Florence Freedom last Aug. 8. A year later, he pitched South Bend's second no-hitter of the season as the Silver Hawks blanked West Michigan, 2-0, at Fifth Third Ballpark.
"When I got the final out, everybody was on top of me," he said. "I had to hold back tears, for sure."
Allen (7-6) struck out nine batters and walked just one, slicing his ERA to 4.67. Over his past 10 starts, he's compiled a 3.71 ERA over 60 2/3 innings.
The Illinois native struck out Jared Reaves and Jeff Holm to begin the game, then walked Dean Green. Green turned out to be the last Whitecap to reach safely as Allen retired Lance Durham on a fly ball and got the next 24 batters in order. He needed only 97 pitches to post his second complete-game shutout of the season.
In the ninth, Adolfo Reina nearly spoiled the no-hit bid. Leading off, he ripped a pitch down the left-field line that landed foul by less than a foot. A few pitches later, Allen struck out Reina. Then he retired Harold Castro on a groundout and Reaves on a popup to second base to end the game.
When Reaves skied the into shallow right field, Allen immediately began jumping and pointing, realizing that second baseman Andrew Velazquez was camped under the ball.
"I just threw my hands up right away," Allen said. "I'm sure everybody saw the ball, but if someone was looking from space and couldn't see it, they probably saw me."
Allen has spent the entire season in the D-backs organization after bouncing around a couple of independent league organizations. He went undrafted after graduating from Arkansas State in 2011, latching on with the Frontier League's Rockford Riverhawks, with whom he spent rest of the 2011 season.
Allen was invited back to Spring Training by Rockford the following season, but the Riverhawks ended up cutting him. He was out of baseball until August, when the Freedom signed him.
"I thought I would never play again, then things just kind of took off," he said. "I went 7-1 with a 1.00 ERA and we went into the playoffs and stuff, too. That got me a chance, got me seen by some other people. I signed with Arizona in December and now I'm here."
The D-backs invited the 24-year-old right-hander to Spring Training this year and assigned him to the Midwest League in May.
"With everything I've been through, everybody has always looked by me," Allen said. "I don't take it as I'm what they think I am, I know what I am. I'm not cocky, but I have a lot of confidence.
"I've always been the guy where, I don't care if you're a first-rounder or whatever, I'm going to compete. I've always been really competitive and I guess that competitive edge has always driven me not to give up. Luckily, someone gave me a chance, and that's the only reason I'm here today."
Allen said he thought about that journey as he was pinned beneath his teammates during the celebration. He also thought about his grandmother, Joan Wallner, who passed away two summers ago, right around the time he signed with Rockford. Allen and Wallner were close, with the latter playing a big role in his upbringing.
"Just thinking, 'Wow, how am I here?'" he said. "I don't take things for granted. When things like this happen, it's that much sweeter."
After digging his way out of the dogpile, Allen got the game ball from Velazquez and immediately ran to the stands to greet his father, Brian. His dad has been at every one of Allen's starts this season and Allen gave the ball to him in what he described as a "cool moment."
The no-hitter was the Silver Hawks' second of the season after Kyle Schepel threw a seven-inning gem on April 14 at Lansing. It also was the sixth no-hitter in the Midwest League this year. South Bend also had Fidel Pena hit for the cycle on July 19 at Peoria.
Saturday marked the first nine-inning no-hitter at Fifth Third Ballpark since Kane County's Bill Murphy pitched one against the Whitecaps in June 2003.
Allen performed the feat in front of 8,372, who gave him a standing ovation after the final out. He stuck around to sign autographs and interact with fans.
"It was crazy," he said. "I didn't know, honestly, didn't know if I'd ever play again. I had thought in my mind that I was something better than where I was at. I kept working my butt off and it was all about getting a chance. That's what the D-backs have given me."