Class A Delmarva may have been out of the running for the South Atlantic League's Northern Division first-half title, but Parker Bridwell still wanted to enter the All-Star break with a flourish.
Facing a Hickory team that held its destiny in its own hands, Bridwell (4-6) turned in the finest outing of his four-year career to play the role of spoiler at L.P. Frans Stadium.
Bridwell stuck out a career-high 10 batters over a career-long eight innings in the Shorebirds' 4-2 win over the host Crawdads. The result meant Hagerstown, which beat Lakewood, 9-6, sealed the playoff berth instead.
"It gave me a little motivation before the game, knowing they would win the division," Bridwell said. "You always want to compete, that's always your job. The better you do, the better chance you have to move up in the organization. You can't take anything for granted even when you can't make the playoffs. This is the best I've pitched since I became a professional."
Bridwell retired the first 13 batters he faced before Jorge Alfaro singled to right field to break up the no-hit bid.
Baltimore's No. 19 prospect responded by setting down 11 of the next 12 hitters to carry the shutout into the ninth inning. The Shorebirds sent him back out for a chance to finish it up, but he allowed up a single to Luis Marte.
Dennis Torres came in to replace Bridwell, but Joey Gallo doubled home Marte and Nick Williams tripled home Gallo. Ryan Rua and Jorge Alfaro each came to the plate representing the potential tying run, but Torres fanned Rua and induced a game-ending groundout from Alfaro.
"I was pitching backward and I was pitching everybody different," said Texas native Bridwell, who lowered his ERA to 5.43.
"I throw a four-seam fastball, a two-seam fastball, a curveball, a slider and a changeup. I was staying out of a sequence altogether and everything was working. That's why I felt I pitched the best I have done in a long time. I was able to throw them all for strikes in any count."
It marked the first time in his career that he pitched into the eighth. He earned a seven-inning complete-game shutout for the Shorebirds in a 4-1 win over West Virginia last July 21. His 10 punchouts came almost two years to the day that he set his previous record. He struck out nine batters for short-season Aberdeen in a 7-2 win over Hudson Valley on June 17, 2011.
"Hickory is one of the best hitting teams I have ever faced," said 21-year-old Bridwell,
selected by the Orioles in the ninth round of the 2010 Draft. "It's impressive what they can do with the bat.
"I was throwing my off-speed pitches for first-pitch strikes and keeping them off balance. I wasn't pitching to get strikeouts, I was just trying to get outs in general and put my defense to work."
Delmarva designated hitter Tucker Nathans was 2-for-3 with a walk, two RBIs and a run scored and left fielder Lucas Herbst and first baseman Nik Balog each plated a run.
Crawdads starter Andrew Faulkner (2-1) allowed three runs on six hits and a walk while striking out two batters over five innings.