Julio De La Cruz pitched the Clearwater Threshers' first no-hitter in 14 years on Friday night, blanking the Sarasota Reds, 5-0, at Bright House Networks Field.
De La Cruz (6-9) struck out five and walked one for his second win in nine starts. He faced just two batters over the minimum after Paul Janish drew a one-out walk in the fourth inning and reached on third baseman Michael Costanzo's error in the seventh.
"I was so happy and I said, 'Thank you, God, thank you," De La Cruz said of his reaction after Janish lined out to end the game. "This was the best moment. I was just so happy, I have never felt like this before."
After winning just once in his previous eight starts, the 25-year-old right-hander attributed his success on Friday to an improved change-up.
"I always work on what doesn't work after a start, and this time I worked on (the change-up) a lot in between starts, and it was a lot better (tonight)," he said.
De La Cruz also relied on great location.
"I was moving my fastball in and out, especially outside," he said. "I had very good control."
With Threshers leading, 1-0, in the seventh, De La Cruz ran into trouble. Following Costanzo's error, the native of the Dominican Republic, uncorked a pair wild pitches to send Janish to third with none out. But De La Cruz did not panic.
"I just told myself I could get two ground balls, I trusted myself," he recalled.
With the infield back, De La Cruz retired Tonys Gutierrez and Jeremiah Piepkorn on back-back ground balls to first baseman Bryan Hansen, then struck out Jay Garthwaite to end the inning.
Clearwater took the lead in the first as Brian Burgamy led off with a single and moved up on Gregory Golson's bunt single. Costanzo struck out, but Brandon Florence walked to load the bases and Burgamy scored on Tim Moss' groundout.
The Threshers extended the lead in the seventh on Florence's RBI double and broke the game open in the eighth when Burgamy, who was 3-for-5, blasted a three-run homer.
Reds starter James Avery (6-8) took the loss, allowing one run on six hits and two walks with four strikeouts in five innings.
With a five-run lead and the crowd behind him, De La Cruz went out in the ninth and completed his historic performance.
"The fans were yelling and screaming when I came out (in the ninth), and after each strike they were standing and screaming," he said. "And after the last out, it was the loudest crowd I've ever heard."
This was the second no-hitter in Clearwater history. Andy Carter tossed the first one on Aug. 23, 1992, at Jack Russell Stadium against the Winter Haven Red Sox. It was part of the only double no-hitter in Minor League history as Clearwater posted a 1-0 victory.
De La Cruz's performance came on "Pitch for Pink Night" in Clearwater. The Threshers wore special pink uniforms to raise money for breast cancer research and awareness. Each player's uniform was going to be auctioned off after the game, but one fan who felt something special was brewing bought De La Cruz's jersey in the sixth inning.
The team raised more than $10,000.