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Billings bares BlueClaws in no-hitter

Hard-throwing right-hander just two batters shy of perfect game for Tourists
July 23, 2008
Bruce Billings got the cold shoulder from his Asheville Tourists teammates Wednesday. That's because he was one scorching hot pitcher.

The hard-throwing 22-year-old righty fired a no-hitter -- and was two batters shy of a perfect game -- as the host Tourists beat the Lakewood BlueClaws, 10-0.

In his second complete game as a pro, Billings (8-7) fanned eight and walked one in the first Asheville no-hitter since Julio De Paula achieved the feat on June 26, 2000 against Cape Fear, which later became the Lakewood franchise.

It was the first no-hitter in the South Atlantic League since the Lake County Captains' Hector Rondon and Neil Wagner combined for a hitless effort on July 3, 2007 against the Delmarva Shorebirds, and the first no-hitter tossed against the BlueClaws in their seven-year history.

"Everyone acted the same toward me during the game," Billings said. "No one sat or stood next to me. All my teammates were awesome.

"I was trying not to think about it," the San Diego State alum added. "I was just trying to pitch deep into the game and think about getting one out at a time."

Billings, who was selected by the Colorado Rockies in the 30th round of the 2007 June Draft, issued his lone walk to Tom Kennelly with two down in the first. He then mowed down 23 batters in succession before misplaying a comebacker with one down in the ninth, allowing Lakewood's Joel Naughton to reach on the error.

But the young pitcher retired Jay Miller and Derrick Mitchell on flyouts to secure his first no-hitter since his youth league days.

"I was too pumped up," Billings said of his miscue. "The ball was coming back at me, and the next thing I knew, it had ricocheted off my glove and over toward third base."

Billings, who lowered his ERA to 3.73, said his main weapon was his heat.

"I had good command of my fastball," he said. "I was moving it in and out and able to keep it down. I was also just trying to let my body and my arm work together and keep myself from trying to do too much.

"And my teammates really played well behind me," he added. "They were all over everything."

This is Billings' first year in a full-season league after going 4-2 with a 2.97 ERA with the Tri-City Dust Devils of the Class A Short-Season Northwest League in 2007.

"I'm learning this year that the game is a day-to-day process and you really have to bust your butt," he said.

Billings got plenty of offensive support. Brian Lapin went 3-for-4 with a three-run homer and finished a triple shy of the cycle, and Helder Velazquez added a two-run blast for the Tourists (20-13), who won the first-half South Atlantic League Southern Division title.

Julian Sampson (6-4) allowed five runs -- two earned -- on five hits, fanning four and walking three over five frames to take the loss for Lakewood (21-12).

Alan Friedman is a contributor to