Needing just one more out to complete a perfect game on Friday night, Kane County's Connor Grey fell behind Louis Boyd, 2-0. For the first time all night, he began to feel some trepidation.
"All I could think was that all of this hard work may come to an end here," Grey said. "So I stepped off the mound and collected myself and was able to throw a couple of strikes to get back into the count."
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Not out of the woods yet, Grey (3-1) threw his 100th pitch of the night. Boyd sent it to right fielder Stephen Smith and a moment later, Grey's teammates were sprinting toward the mound, eager to do what baseball players do when one of their own accomplishes something extraordinary.
"It was an unreal feeling," the D-backs prospect said. "Our first baseman, Eudy Ramos, was the first one to reach me and then the rest of the infielders and then the bullpen doused me in water. It's what you dream about as a pitcher. The goal every night is to give your team a chance to win, but this is an even better feeling than that."
Grey fanned eight, threw 70 pitches for strikes and induced eight ground-ball outs in the Cougars' 5-0 victory over Clinton at Ashford University Field. It was the Midwest League's first perfect game since Burlington's Chris Coughlin's beat Beloit on June 30, 2004.
Staked to five-run lead in the first, Grey needed seven pitches to register his first three outs. The second inning proved tricky for the 23-year-old, who overcame a pair of three-ball counts to post another zero. He regained his form in the third, throwing nine pitches to get through the LumberKings lineup for the first time.
"Our game plan tonight was to mix pitches and throw in and out to both sides of the plate," the right-hander said. "Our catcher, Jose Herrera, called a great game and I just threw whatever he told me."
2017 Minor League milestones
Grey used three strikeouts to flip the lineup for a second time, closing out the sixth by getting Boyd to ground out on a 3-2 pitch. After retiring Boyd, thoughts of perfection began to creep into the upstate New York native's mind.
"Once I got through the lineup again, I started to realize it," Grey said. "I was like, 'Oh, I got through the lineup again and I think I'm perfect.'"
The St. Bonaventure University product put together his most efficient inning in the seventh, using six pitches to get a pair of groundouts and a flyout. He pitched a similar inning in the eighth, this time throwing nine pitches to put himself within three outs of perfection.
"When I needed a big pitch, I went to my fastball," said Gray, a 2016 20th-round Draft pick. "I was able to command it well tonight, so I was going heavy with the fastball tonight."
Grey struck out Jhombeyker Morales on four pitches to begin the ninth. He fell behind Nick Thurman, 0-1, but threw three straight strikes to record his eighth punchout.
Five pitches later, the party started.
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Kane County hadn't recorded a no-hitter since Tyler Skulina threw one on May 17, 2014.
Smith capped the Cougars' big first inning with a bases-loaded triple and Herrera backed his batterymate with three hits, an RBI and a run scored.