Chris Lambert didn't know he was approaching a career high in strikeouts, but he was well aware he was pitching a special game.
Lambert took a no-hitter into the eighth inning and recorded a career-best 11 strikeouts Tuesday, pitching the Toledo Mud Hens to a 5-0 blanking of the Louisville Bats.
A 26-year-old right-hander who made his Major League debut last August, Lambert (1-0) faced only two batters over the minimum through seven innings.
"It's a little obvious," he said of the no-hitter. "After six innings, no one talked to me, no one was around me. I haven't really been in that position too many times. I wanted to get it. At least [the hit] came in the eighth, not the ninth."
Wes Bankston spoiled Lambert's bid for the Mud Hens' first no-hitter in nearly 13 years with a leadoff double in the eighth. He lined a 2-1 pitch down the left-field line.
"It was a changeup I left up," Lambert said. "I'd been working away with him with fastballs all night. He's one of the guys in the lineup that's dangerous. It was the right pitch, I think I just didn't throw it in the right spot.
"He got it good, took it down the line. He took advantage of a mistake. If I made a good pitch and he hit it off the end [of the bat] or just over someone's head, I may have been a little angry."
Lambert regrouped quickly, retiring the next three batters before turning things over to reliever Freddy Dolsi. When he caught Luis Bolivar looking at a third strike to end the eighth, it topped his previous career high for punchouts.
"I don't throw abnormally hard. I like to work the sinker and get ground balls," the New Hampshire native said. "My off-speed pitches, I can throw for strikes in any count. On occasion, I can strike people out. But I didn't know how many strikeouts I had until I [came out]."
Lambert threw 87 pitches, including first-pitch strikes to 19 of 27 batters.
"That's probably one of the most important things for me, getting ahead of people early," he said. "If I'm able to get that first-pitch strike, I can throw any of three pitches in the next sequence and keep my pitch count down."
Lambert, a first-round pick by the Cardinals in 2004, was 1-2 with a 5.66 ERA in an eight-game stint with Detroit late last season. The Tigers made him an early cut in Spring Training and sent him back to Toledo so he could extend himself as a starting pitcher.
"I think they really wanted me to be, I don't know whether ready is the right word, but they didn't want to put me back in the bullpen like last year," Lambert said. "They wanted me to get innings and work."
He got both on a chilly night in Louisville.
"From what I got last year, the experience up there [in the Majors], it's a little nerve-racking," he said. "Here, I get to work on 60 feet, 6 inches. That's the same whether I'm there or here. For right now, I'm just trying to do well here."