Mike Clevinger may have thought his season was over a week ago in Akron, but on Monday, covered in ice water and shaving cream, the 24-year-old could hardly believe what happened.
"It's unbelievable," the Indians' No. 15 prospect said. "I couldn't have pictured it any better."
Clevinger took a no-hitter into the eighth inning of his Triple-A debut and Columbus got two-run homers from Audy Ciriaco and Erik Gonzalez to advance to the Governors' Cup Finals with a 5-0 win over Norfolk in decisive Game 5 on Monday night.
In his first International League start, the right-hander struck out a career-high 10 batters over 7 2/3 hitless innings before Major League veteran Shaun Marcum lost the no-hitter, but recorded the final four outs to seal the series and send the Indians' top affiliate to the Championship Series against Indianapolis.
"This is definitely my best outing of the season so far, definitely one of the best of my career," said Clevinger, who matched a career high in innings. "I felt fresh, I had a lot of days off, so I definitely felt good."
The Clippers will host the Indians in Game 1 of the Finals at 6:35 p.m. ET on Tuesday. The team, which drew a franchise playoff-record 10,734 fans Monday, will again offer free admission for its Finals games.
The 24-year-old Clevinger threw 65 of his 102 pitches for strikes, popping up Audry Perez for the second out in the eighth before Clippers manager Chris Tremie pulled his starter in favor of Marcum. The former Blue Jays righty lost the no-hitter when the next batter, Michael Almanzar, hit a line-drive single to center field, but Marcum struck out Andy Wilkins to finish off the game.
"It's great, it's always nice to win a series," said Tremie. "It was a tough series, they have a good ballclub. We grinded it out and had a good offense tonight and a great pitching performance, so we're on a high note right now."
Clevinger, who went 9-8 with a 2.73 ERA and 145 strikeouts in 158 innings over 27 outings at Double-A Akron this year, hadn't thrown more than 104 pitches in a start this season. The right-hander, who missed most of 2012 and 2013 following Tommy John surgery, admitted he was a little let down when he had to hand over the ball just four outs shy of a no-hitter. He entered the game with a 100-pitch limit.
"I mean I was a little disappointed, I wanted to keep it going, I felt like I had it," Clevinger said. "Pitch counts -- it's their call, whatever they feel is best, I'm with it."
"He went deep into the game and had done a fantastic job," added Tremie. "It was a situation where it was tough to do, but the guy put us in a position to win the game. He was great about it. He did his job and he was interested in the team winning He was very professional."
Clevinger was perfect into the fifth, when he walked David Lough with two outs. Junior Lake worked a leadoff walk in the eighth before the Jacksonville, Florida native struck out Lough swinging and retired Perez.
"It was a really strong performance, he commanded the fastball very well. He was low-to-mid 90s with good secondary pitches," said Tremie. "He had a great outing."
Ciriaco homered in the fourth and Gonzalez went deep in the fifth before Yandy Diaz capped the scoring with an RBI single. Tremie said he told his team afterward in the clubhouse that they still have more games to win.
"I told them, 'Hard-fought battle, hard series with a tough team. ... Enjoy this and come back ready to play.'"
It would have been the first no-hitter for Columbus since Tyler Cloyd pitched one against Louisville on July 30, 2014.
Tremie credited Columbus general manager Ken Schnacke on the ticket giveaway. The Clippers also offered 10-cent hot dogs to help draw fans out to Huntington Park for the must-win game.
"It was a great atmosphere to have that many fans. It added some electricity to the game and it was a very good move on our GM's part," said Tremie. "It's nice to play in front of a big crowd and win the game."
Columbus won its season series with Indianapolis, 11-10, and will likely face another tough series with the Pirates' top affiliate.
"They have a good ballclub, we played them quite a bit," Tremie said. "It's going to be a good series."