Frankie Montas said it was the best start of his life. And when he finally got back to his seat in the visitor's clubhouse on Tuesday, he knew just how to save the memory.
"Everybody was telling me, 'Good job,' hugging me," he said. "And I got the ball and had everyone sign it, and I put 'no-hitter' on it."
Montas couldn't have authored a better day, pitching a seven-inning no-hitter, striking out three and silencing a lineup stacked with prospects as Double-A Birmingham blanked Tennessee, 2-0, in the first game of a doubleheader.
The White Sox No. 2 prospect struck out three, walked three and faced just batter one over the minimum to complete the Barons' first no-hitter since Aaron Poreda pitched a five-inning gem on May 4, 2009.
"Honestly, I'm still laughing," Montas said after the second game of Birmingham's twinbill. "People are asking me today, 'Hey, how's that feel?' It feels like great, I threw a no-hitter! The first no-hitter of my career, so I feel pretty good."
MLB.com's No. 79 overall prospect threw 47 of 77 pitches for strikes and used a pair of timely double plays while outpitching rehabbing Cubs right-hander Jacob Turner to throw his third career complete game and first shutout.
The 22-year-old right-hander hit 98 mph with his fastball while mowing through an especially tough Tennessee lineup. In the seventh, Montas retired Albert Almora, Kyle Schwarber and Dan Vogelbach -- ranked fifth, fourth and 15th, respectively, among Cubs prospects. Vogelbach grounded weakly to second for the final out as Montas pumped his fist and was swarmed by catcher Rob Brantly and the rest of his teammates on the mound.
Montas said he wasn't nervous for most of the afternoon, except when he saw Vogelbach's grounder bouncing toward second baseman Joey DeMichele.
"I was so nervous, I was like, 'Oh, come on, throw the ball, get there!'" Montas said. "And then like, I didn't know what to do. I saw my first baseman and then the catcher was waiting for me. I thought, 'Oh, my God, I have to go to the catcher."
Birmingham's last seven-inning no-hitter came on July 6, 1967 when George Lauzerique blanked Evansville.
Montas (1-1), who won for the first time in 10 starts, allowed three baserunners. Elliot Soto drew a leadoff walk in the first but was erased on Schwarber's inning-ending double play. Cubs No. 19 prospect Jacob Hannemann worked a one-out walk in the third before Wes Darvill bounced into another double play. Darvill was the last batter to reach against the native of the Dominican Republic when he walked in the sixth.
Frankie Montas holds the game ball after throwing the first Barons' seven-inning no-no since 1967. (Curt Bloom/Barons)
"I was using my fastball a lot, using it more than the other stuff," Montas said. "And I was in the zone. I was getting ahead early in the count with the fastball."
Montas said he was aware of the no-hitter and was hoping no one would speak about it in the dugout, as per baseball superstition.
"I thought, 'Please, nobody say anything,'" he said with a laugh. "And no, no, they didn't, thank God."
Montas, a 6-foot-2 righty, was signed by the Red Sox in 2009 but traded to the White Sox as part of a three-team deal at the 2013 deadline that sent Jake Peavy to Boston. Last year, he went 5-0 with a 1.44 ERA in 15 starts across three levels in the White Sox system, striking out 80 batters over 81 innings.
Montas said he was careful Tuesday when it came to facing sluggers like Schwarber and Vogelbach. Cubs No. 5 prospect Billy McKinney was another notable obstacle in the Smokies lineup.
"Honestly, I was like, telling myself, 'You can't make a mistake with those guys,'" he said. "Just try to wait for them, throw them outside, because those guys, you have to be careful. Those guys can hit."
And aside from facing some serious bats, Montas said he just forced himself to stay calm as the zeros piled up.
"I wasn't too nervous. I was trying to stay in the game and not even thinking about the no-hitter and those guys," he said. "I thought, 'OK, let me try to get ahead with my fastball and then go to my off-speed.' Like I said, I was trying to not make any mistakes with those guys."
Barons pitching coach Britt Burns told Montas to forget about the details he'd been focusing on in the bullpen before the game, and the advice helped.
"I'd been working on my fastball command and my delivery before the game, and my pitching coach said, 'Don't think about any of those things, just go out and pitch.'"
The no-hitter comes a year after Montas took a no-no into the seventh with Class A Advanced Winston-Salem. That bid for a combined no-hitter fell apart, though.
"I almost threw a no-hitter against my old team," he said, "so I guess this is the best start of my life."
Brian Fletcher produced the only offense Montas needed with a two-run homer off Turner in the fourth. The Barons totaled five hits.
Montas, who lowered his ERA from 2.87 to 2.50, has been sharp all season, allowing three earned runs or fewer in all 10 starts. The no-hitter extended his scoreless streak to 13 innings and he's allowed just one earned run in his last 19 frames.
Tennessee also was on the losing end of the last no-hitter in the Southern League when Chattanooga's Andres Santiago beat the Smokies on Aug. 28. Oddly enough, Santiago signed with the Cubs in January and pitched the final three innings of Tuesday's game, allowing two hits in relief of Turner.
Turner, acquired from the Marlins last August, allowed two runs on three hits and a walk over four innings in his second rehab outing. The 24-year-old had hoped to compete for the final spot in the Cubs rotation but was shut down due to right elbow soreness in mid-March.