If you listen to Brevard County's Drew Gagnon and his pitching coach, the seeds for Wednesday's perfect performance were planted in a superficially unimpressive start 11 days ago in Clearwater.
The No. 13 Brewers prospect allowed five runs in 5 1/3 innings against the Threshers that night. Yet it was that foreshadowed Wednesday's effort in which Gagnon pitched seven perfect innings and fanned 10 in a combined one-hitter, which the Manatees won, 1-0, over Bradenton in eight frames.
"My pitching coach said it was going to be the tipping point moving forward to what I did last year," said Gagnon, who had a 2.83 ERA in 25 starts across two levels in 2012. "What I did in the first five innings that game is basically what I did this game."
In that April 20 effort, Gagnon retired nine straight batters across the third, fourth and fifth innings, six of those by strikeout. Things fell apart in the sixth, but the righty from Long Beach State has been nearly unhittable since.
"He had very good stuff, and that start it all came together," said pitching coach Mark Dewey. "It kind of ended in a bad way, but you could tell he was locked in for the majority of it."
After 5 1/3 scoreless innings against Dunedin in his subsequent start, Gagnon was untouchable for seven innings Wednesday.
"I had all three pitches," he said. "It's really comforting to know that you can throw any pitch in any count. It was really fun."
His 10 strikeouts are a career high[,] and his seven innings are the most since he went eight on Aug. 15, 2012, in Dunedin. If not for inclement weather, he might have had a chance to go the distance. Gagnon had only thrown 84 pitches and had a limit of 100.
"The only way the pitch count came into effect is -- with 84 pitches -- the chances of him going nine were pretty minimal," said Dewey. "We would have sent him out for the eighth, but with that weather, it doesn't take too much of a slip on the mound when he's fatigued or fielding a bunt. It wasn't worth the risk."
Dewey indicated that, though Gagnon's pitch limit was 100, if he could have gotten through the eighth inning at 92-93 pitches and with the perfect game intact, he would have been sent out for the ninth and permitted to go up to as many as 105 pitches.
"I thought I was going to keep going, but due to weather conditions, it was the right thing to do," said the 2011 third-round pick.
Instead, Gagnon had to settle for his finest start as a professional. Even the changeup, usually his third best pitch, was reliable.
"I got behind [Gregory] Polanco twice, 2-0, and came back with two changeups both times," recalled Gagnon.
Polanco, the Pirates' No. 4 prospect, struck out in all three meetings Wednesday. Gagnon fanned two each in the first, second, fourth and seventh innings, including Polanco -- the 10th Marauders victim -- to end his outing.
Gagnon says he gained an advantage from watching Bradenton the last two days.
"I was in the stands the last two games, and I watched what the hitters did. I learned what they could do and what they can't."
Dewey countered, "With Drew, if he throws his stuff and commands it, it really doesn't matter at this level. He pitched in, he pitched out, he pitched up he pitched down -- fast, slow. When he's throwing like that, the scouting report is irrelevant."
Seth Harvey relieved Gagnon to start the eighth inning and allowed a one-out single to Dan Gamache, which broke up the perfect game and no-hitter. Gamache, the potential tying run, was caught stealing to end the eighth in what would be the game's final out before rain ended proceedings with Brevard County's Cameron Garfield batting to lead off the top of the ninth.
Brevard County scored the only run of the game before Gagnon took the hill. Nick Ramirez's one-out double to right scored Chadwin Stang, who walked to lead off the game. The Manatees only had three hits on the day as Bradenton starter Eliecer Navarro fanned nine in six innings but fell to 0-5 nonetheless.
Brevard County's win came after Bradenton won the completion of a game suspended Tuesday night, 5-4. A Ramirez error allowed Junior Sosa to score the winning run in the bottom of the 10th.
As for Gagnon, Dewey isn't sure how much longer the 22-year-old will have to wait for a promotion to Double-A Huntsville, but he is sure that the pitcher he watched Wednesday would succeed there.
"His stuff is definitely good enough, and now he's put together three starts that are good enough. It's all about consistency, about being able to command it. As far as when he would go, I don't know what the plan is, but I think he could have given Milwaukee a chance to win today."