It's been a long, tenuous year for Josh Outman --an injury, Major League struggles, Minor League issues -- but for 8 2/3 innings Thursday night, he lived up to his catchy last name.
The Double-A Tulsa left-hander took a no-hitter into the ninth inning against Springfield, and after walking Mike O'Neill to start the frame, struck out Kolten Wong and Jermaine Curtis to come within one out of history.
With O'Neill standing at third after a pair of wild pitches, the hurler forced a 2-2 count to recently named Texas League MVP Oscar Taveras and dropped a breaking ball on the outside part of the plate to the left-handed slugger. The Cardinals' No. 3 prospect poked the offering up the middle for an RBI single.
No-hitter over. Shutout over.
Outman exited after the base hit, finishing the night with one run allowed on one hit and five walks while striking out nine. He threw 114 pitches, 65 for strikes. Reliever Michael Marbry recorded the final out as the Drillers won, 9-1, on the road.
Despite just missing the Texas League's second no-hitter of the season, Outman (2-5) wasn't about to look back at what might have been.
"It is what it is," he said. "I felt like I threw a great game, regardless of what happened there at the end. ... I made the pitch I wanted to make, but just missed it by a couple of inches. Then again, you have to look at it like any number of pitches during the game could have missed a couple of inches, a couple of inches there and it wouldn't have been a no-hitter in the first place."
In fact, a few different bounces in the field also could have ruined the near-feat. The Drillers turned three double plays on the night in defense of Outman. Maybe none bigger than the last one in the sixth inning, when second baseman Angelys Nina snagged a line drive mid-flight before flipping to first base for another out.
Outman did struggle some with his command throughout the game. His five walks were his most in his 14 appearances for the Drillers as well as in any start since his July 2 start for the Rockies. The five free passes in that game cut short his outing against the St. Louis Cardinals after three innings and his time with Colorado. He was sent down to Double-A after the start.
Thursday was a different story.
"I really can't say why [everything worked]," Outman said. "Sometimes you have to call it wildly effective, and I guess that's what you'd do tonight. I didn't feel like I was as effective tonight as my last few starts, to be honest. But my defense bailed me out with some big double plays, so that was great.
"Sometimes when your control gets away from you, you know you're just going to have to bear down and bear it out, and that's what I was trying to do."
The southpaw's near-complete game was the latest peak in a season that has had its share of valleys. After signing with the Rockies in the offseason, he missed most of the month of April with a strained oblique. He returned to the Rockies on May 12 but worked mostly out of the bullpen, allowing five runs in 4 2/3 innings as a reliever.
Things didn't get much better when Outman entered the rotation, starting on June 1. In seven starts with Colorado, he gave up 26 earned runs in 26 1/3 innings -- no start lasting longer than five frames.
It was after that start that he was sent down to Tulsa, where he owns a 3.63 ERA and 1.36 WHIP. Decent numbers to be sure, but they're at the level Outman predicted he'd be at during August's conclusion.
"It's been an aggravating year," he said. "I haven't been able to accomplish things I would have liked to this year at all. But the main thing right now for me is that I'm healthy and I've been able to stay healthy. Sure, there are days when I didn't want to come to the field and got pretty down on myself. I mean, I was sent all the way to Double-A from the Majors. But I've had to put my nose to the grindstone here."
The only question remains is where the pitcher goes from Thursday's start. Frankly, he's not paying attention.
"I think the worst thing a player can do is play general manager," he said. "That's just messing with your own head. All I'm doing is getting in preparation for facing the Springfield Cardinals in Game 1 of the playoffs down here."