A's prospect J.C. Menna entered his 14th and final outing of the season with an 0-9 record and an ERA north of 5.00. So putting past frustrations and poor numbers aside, what was his mind-set before taking the mound in Vermont on Saturday evening?
"This was my last start of the season, so I set the bar real high," he said. "I told myself I wanted to go nine innings and for those nine to be perfect. Obviously, I didn't do that."
No, but he came pretty close.
Menna pitched around four walks over six innings and leaned on his bullpen to complete short-season Vermont's no-hitter and a 2-0 victory over the visiting Tri-City ValleyCats.
It was the first no-no in the Lake Monsters' 18-year history. The Expos started play in 1994 and became the Lake Monsters in 2006.
"It's so much of a once-in-a-million event that it became that much crystallized in our baseball memory," said Rick Magnante, Vermont's second-year manager. "[Menna] has pitched much better than his numbers have showed. This is the best outing I have ever seen him throw in two years."
Menna, a 23-year-old right-hander in his third pro season, retired the first seven ValleyCats before walking Emilio King in the third. He issued three more free passes and worked around a pair of errors committed on the infield. Eleven outs were recorded on the ground, two via strikeouts.
"They weren't putting too many good swings on my pitches," he said. "I feel like they didn't know what to expect."
Menna enjoyed command of his fastball, sinker, slider and changeup, but his secret weapon was a change in arm slot: In recent bullpen sessions, the 2010 14th-round Draft pick started working on sidearming his pitches. After receiving a blessing from the A's and his Lake Monsters coaches, he broke it out in an actual game for the first time Saturday.
"It neutralized the lefties," Magnante said. "He had his fastball sinking and running to the arm side. Guys were swinging over the top of it.
"We told him to throw 10 of those tonight. I think he threw more than that."
Now 1-9 with a 4.60 ERA in 14 games, the 14th being the best of his up-and-down but mostly down career, Menna sounded like a man who'd made a discovery.
"It's something I could always do. I'll take it into the offseason and get better with it," he said. "I'm sure if the A's make me a reliever, I'll be a sidearmer.
"I feel like making it to the big leagues is tough enough. This gives me a better chance to set myself apart; anything to confuse the hitter."
Of course, he befuddled the ValleyCats (50-22), who, unlike the Lake Monsters (31-41), are playoff-bound with a team that leads the New York-Penn League in hitting (.274). If that wasn't enough, here's one more element of surprise to Menna's unlikely Saturday night: The last time he was part of a no-hitter, he also threw six innings. Only he was 10, and his dad was his coach.
"If a pitcher tells you he doesn't think about it, he's lying," he said of that in-game mind-set. "You always have it in the back in my head, but I never really thought too much about it in detail until after I came out.
"I went out there with focus, thinking this could be the last start of my life. I didn't take it for granted."
Reliever Deyvi Jimenez struck out three batters and walked one over the seventh and eighth. Ryan Dull fanned two in the ninth to earn his fourth save and seal the club's third shutout in five games.
Tri-City starter Juri Perez (2-2) yielded two runs on six hits over seven innings, striking out six.