Sugar Ray Marimon proved more than sweet for the Kane County Cougars on Wednesday night.
The 22-year-old right-hander tossed 7 2/3 innings and Chas Byrne nailed down the last four outs to complete the seventh no-hitter in team history as Kane County blanked the Cedar Rapids Kernels, 2-0.
"My best pitch tonight was my changeup," an emotional Marimon said.
The gem was Kane County's first since Craig Italiano and Branden Dewing combined to no-hit Burlington in the second game of a doubleheader on April 9, 2008. It was the first nine-inning no-no for the Cougars since Bill Murphy went the distance on June 10, 2003.
The Cougars began play as an Orioles affiliate in 1991. This is their first season as the Royals' Class A club.
Marimon improved to 3-2 with his third straight victory. He matched a career high with seven strikeouts, walked two and unleashed one wild pitch. The Colombia native threw 62 of 101 pitches for strikes in the second-longest outing of his career. He went eight frames on April 30 at Burlington.
"He was under control, had great fastball command and mixed in his changeup early," said Cougars pitching coach Jim Brower, who was in contact with the Royals development staff as the game progressed. "He kept their hitters off-balance from the start.
"We have an organizational pitch limit of 100 and we're pretty firm with that. Everyone in the organization is thrilled for Sugar -- he's already getting texts -- but his development is more important than one game."
After a perfect first inning, the undrafted free agent issued a leadoff walk in the second to Brandon Decker, who was erased on a double play. Ricky Alvarez drew a leadoff walk in the third but was stranded after three consecutive groundouts.
Marimon was virtually untouchable the rest of the way. He retired 17 batters in a row before Alvarez reached on third baseman Angel Franco's throwing error with two outs in the eighth.
Kane County manager Vance Wilson made the move then, with Marimon at 101 pitches. Relievers had begun warming up in the seventh Brower told Byrne before the eighth to throw in the bullpen behind Marimon.
"We have three back-end guys and he was fresh," Brower said.
Byrne entered the game 0-1 with a 4.91 ERA and a .269 opponents' average. The 22-year-old right-hander, a 16th-round pick out of East Tennessee State last June, never blinked, getting Daniel Eichelberger to fly out to end the eighth.
"I was pretty nervous," Byrne admitted. "I was facing the 9-1-2 batters in the ninth, and all of them were fast guys who could maybe leg out an infield hit.
"But I tried to keep in mind that the game wasn't for me, it was for Sugar. He really deserved it and I wanted to get it for him."
In the ninth, Byrne got two quick flyouts before Wes Hatton took a two-strike fastball on the outside corner to complete the no-hitter.
"I tried to do what I usually do, going right after hitters, getting ahead in the count," said Byrne, who was mobbed by his teammates on the Veterans Memorial Stadium mound.
The Cougars got on the board in the first when Franco led off with a triple and scored on Alex Llanos' groundout. Franco singled in an insurance run in the fifth.
Franco, Steven Caseres and Lane Adams collected two hits apiece.
Kernels starter Brian Diemer (4-3) took the loss, allowing two runs on seven hits and a walk while striking out three over 5 2/3 innings.
Kane County has taken the first two games of the three-game set in Cedar Rapids, sealing its first road series win of the season.
After rewriting the record books on Wednesday night, the Cougars don't have long to celebrate. First pitch in Thursday's series finale is 12:05 p.m. CT.