Matt Loosen knew, more or less, what to expect on Monday.
His Class A Advanced Daytona squad was taking on Dunedin on Getaway Day, meaning the start was pushed up to 11 a.m., the earliest game on the day's Minor League schedule. That suggested that the right-hander would be taking the mound right in the middle of Florida's notorious heat. (The temperature at gametime was 82 degrees and was expected to reach the 90s by midday.)
He prepared appropriately: Plenty of water in the days ahead for hydration, an early alarm clock for timeliness, a big breakfast for sustenance.
But even with all that preparation, he admits he couldn't have expected what came next.
Loosen tossed a nine-inning no-hitter, striking out nine and walking two, in the Cubs' 7-0 win over the Blue Jays at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium. It was Daytona's first no-hitter that spanned all nine frames since Kerry Wood, Darold Brown and Brandon Hammack combined on the feat on Aug. 24, 1996, against Vero Beach. David Hutcheson threw the last individual nine-hitting no-hitter for Daytona on Aug. 4, 1994.
"I didn't see this coming. I mean, it's impossible to predict something like this," said the Daytona starter, who improved to 3-2 with a 2.25 ERA over six starts with the team. "You try to stay positive, have a good mindset going in, stuff like that. But you don't ever expect to throw a no-hitter. I knew what I needed to do to get outs, and it just worked out really well today."
As good as it ended, Monday's pitching matchup didn't always look like it favored the Cubs. Blue Jays top prospect Aaron Sanchez was taking the mound for Dunedin. Although the 6-foot-4 right-hander was still working his way back from shoulder issues, he had allowed just one run on five hits in 10 innings since returning to the Jays rotation.
From the moment Zeke DeVoss led off the contest with a triple to center, however, it looked like the Cubs bats had the upper hand. Daytona touched up Sanchez for seven runs -- four earned -- on six hits and three walks in the first three innings, with four of those tallies coming in the second inning.
Meanwhile, Loosen admitted he was getting more than just some nice run support.
"That was huge," said the 24-year-old right-hander, who retired nine of the 10 batters he faced in that time with a first-inning walk the only blemish. "It was pretty hot out, so I needed as much time as I could get to collect myself. In those big innings, I think I had 20 minutes to get my breath back early and get back on the mound well-rested."
With the confidence that comes with a seven-run lead in his pocket, the Jacksonville University product breezed the rest of the way, thanks mostly to a sharp two-seam fastball.
Shane Opitz's leadoff walk in the fourth and Elliot Soto's error on a ball off the bat of Peter Mooney in the sixth were slight imperfections. Nonetheless, the zero remained under the "H" category as the innings passed. After each goose egg, Loosen maintained his usual between-innings routine.
Pour water on top of the head. Adjust the jersey the same way every time. Pour more water when there are two outs.
Meanwhile, the mood in the dugout had predictably begun to change.
"As we were getting along, everyone started moving and staying away from me," Loosen said. "I'm kind of a talkative guy, but I noticed when I went over and asked a guy a question, they'd just shrug their shoulders and leave. After a while, I knew to just let them go. I got the message."
The right-hander had retired 10 in a row to get to one of the most pressure-packed moments in sports -- two outs in the ninth with a no-no on the line. He got Opitz to pop a ball to right that he thought had a chance to drop before Bijan Rademacher held the 27th out safely in his glove, allowing the merriment to ensue.
"I think [first baseman Dustin] Geiger hit me first on the mound," said the Daytona starter. "And it just turned into a semi-dog pile from there."
The no-no capped what, for Loosen, has been an impressive run thus far with the D-Cubs. Loosen started the season with Tennessee but struggled mightily with command issues. He walked 26 batters in 35 innings (nine appearances) and allowed opponents to bat .276 off him in that time. His ERA stood at 7.46, his WHIP at 1.83 when the Cubs decided to reassign him back to the Florida State League, where he was a postseason All-Star a year ago.
"I had some command issues up there in Tennessee," he said. "I had some trouble locating my fastball, and my breaking pitches were pretty erratic too. Since I've come back here, I've worked with [pitching coach Storm Davis], and the command definitely is better right now."
The proof has certainly been in the pudding thus far, albeit with the caveat of coming against lower competition. Loosen has just 11 walks, compared to 41 strikeouts, in 36 innings thus far for the Cubs and owns a 0.86 WHIP to go with his 2.25 ERA in six starts since his return.
As nice as his current success has been, the 24-year-old knows he'll have to carry it to the Southern League, if and when such an opportunity presents itself again.
"I try not to get too high, even after something like this," Loosen said. "I'll look at the videotape, but I don't expect to change a lot of things. Obviously, my confidence is up a little, but there's no reason to get overconfident."