Lookouts' Santiago fires nine-inning no-no
Andres Santiago's focus never veered from victory Thursday.
The Dodgers right-hander lost his perfect-game bid in the eighth inning with a one-out walk to Christian Villanueva. But he struck out the side in the ninth to seal a complete-game no-hitter in the Double-A Lookouts' 1-0 victory over the Smokies. It marked the 19th no-no in the Minor Leagues this season.
"This is something that I'm going to remember forever. August 28, 2014 -- no-hitter," said Santiago, who dedicated the mound masterpiece to his son, Gael. "It's something that you dream about, and it's hard to get it, but when you get it, it's like an unbelievable feeling."
The 24-year-old threw 109 pitches, 72 for strikes, en route to a career-high 12 strikeouts. He faced the minimum of 27 batters over a career-high nine innings, and retired 22 straight before the Cubs' No. 20 prospect Villanueva drew the walk.
"I knew I had a no-hitter going on and that I needed to make a pitch, because he's one of the best hitters [around]," Santiago said. "I know he can change the game with one swing, so I would rather throw a pitch that he can miss or walk him, because I know I can get the other guy to ground out on a sinker. That's exactly what I did and turned a double play on. Thank God, it worked out pretty good."
After the perfect game came off the table, he got Charles Cutler to ground into a 6-4-3 double play to end the eighth and punched out Rubi Silva, Anthony Giansanti and Taylor Davis in the ninth. It was the second time in the game he struck out the side, having whiffed Silva, Giansanti and Felix Pena in the third.
"What made it happen was his command on his fastball," Chattanooga manager Razor Shines said. "He commanded the fastball in and out all night. He just went after hitters. It was unbelievable. As good as I've seen a guy throw the ball this year. He just attacked the strike zone all night. He was a 3-2 pitch away from a perfect game."
With the second complete game of his career, Santiago (6-8) lowered his ERA to 4.47. The 2007 16th-round pick has struck out 98 and walked 53 over 129 innings across 26 games, including 24 starts.
"It was really good to see," Shines said. "A kid that's put a lot of work in and had some things go wrong for him in the past, but they worked out pretty good tonight.
"The ninth inning, we did have a lefty and a righty up in the bullpen, but Santiago gave us no reason to think that he wasn't going to finish that deal."
Travis Buckley hurled Chattanooga's last no-hitter on June 1, 1996 against Huntsville.
Chris O'Brien plated the lone run of the game in the second inning, going deep off Pena (2-4) for his sixth home run of the season. In five innings, the Smokies starter surrendered one run on five hits, fanning four and walking two.
At 32-32, Santiago gave Chattanooga a one-game lead in the Southern League North Division standings on Tennessee (32-34). Since it's the final series of the season, the Puerto Rican native was particularly excited about blowing his 109th pitch of his night past the swinging bat of Davis.
"I was just trying to get that win," Santiago said. "We need three wins to go to the playoffs. I was just trying to get that first win. Thank God I was able to get my team a win."
"Everybody mobbed him," Shines added. "It was just like a party on the diamond. Kids jumping up and down. Everybody was sincerely happy for this kid. And the importance of the game, we were tied for first place with five to go, so this was unbelievable. He stepped up and did his job for us."
Mark Emery is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @Mark_Emery.