Six outs from completing a no-hitter Sunday, Akron starter Giovanni Soto was certain -- if even for a second -- that his luck had run out. That's because Altoona's Quincy Latimore led off the seventh inning with a high chopper that bounced in front of home plate and directly toward the mound -- right for him.
"I jumped for the ball and it came out of my mitt," Soto said through Spanish-translating batting coach Rouglas Odor. "I thought for sure it would be an infield single, but I made the throw and got 'em out."
And the remaining five too. The left-handed Indians prospect tossed his first career no-no in the Double-A Aeros' 2-1 victory over the visiting Curve.
The feat was Akron's first since Jeanmar Gomez (now a member of the Triple-A Columbus Clippers) tossed a perfect game at Trenton on May 21, 2009. Altoona hadn't been held hitless since a Harrisburg tag team silenced the Curve for seven innings on June 10, 2010.
Soto (6-6) struck out six and walked three, but thanks to a pair of infield double plays, faced just one over the minimum 27 batters. He recorded 11 groundouts, including the all-important 1-3 play in the seventh.
"I thought about [the no-hitter] around the seventh inning," he admited. "I knew I had a catcher, [34-year-old] Michel Hernandez, with a lot of experience, so I wasn't shaking him off."
The 21-year-old said many of his 104 pitches (64 strikes) were curveballs and cutters. He didn't require more than a couple of changeups to keep the Curve lineup off kilter.
"I had command of all my pitches," the Puerto Rico native said after enjoying a postgame celebration with teammates and coaches involving cool water and shaving cream. "I was using my fastball more than I usually do. I was keeping the ball down."
That, he added, was the issue with his last start -- he gave up six runs on eight hits on July 6 at Erie -- as well as others he has pitched in his first season at Double-A. Through 18 starts, he has compiled a 3.73 ERA. He hadn't left a game without yielding an earned run until Sunday.
"My fastball command last outing, it wasn't as sharp. At one point, I couldn't command it," he said. "That was definitely the main difference.
"I'm really surprised because I think I'm not having a great year -- just an OK year -- so to do what I just did was amazing."
The effort represented Soto's third complete-game shutout in his four-year pro career. In the months before the Tigers traded him to the Indians for veteran infielder Jhonny Peralta in 2010, Soto tossed a seven-inning four-hitter May 25 and a nine-inning three-hitter June 16 for Detroit's Class A affiliate, West Michigan.
The one unearned run on his otherwise clean stat line scored in the sixth: Jarek Cunningham drew a leadoff walk, advanced to third on a throwing error by center fielder Tyler Holt and came home on Kelson Brown's one-out groundout to the right of second base.
The Aeros scored two runs (one earned) on five hits over eight innings against starter Phil Irwin (1-7). The eight frames were a career high for Irwin, who threw 71 of his 100 pitches in the zone.
Curve leadoff man Robbie Grossman, who is the Pirates' No. 7 prospect, lifted a fly out in the top of the ninth to end the game. Grossman went 0-for-4 at the plate. He had reached base safely in his previous 26 games.