Alex McRae walked off the field and into the visiting dugout at PNC Field on Thursday afternoon, his teammates keeping a watchful eye.
"Holy cow," he said he thought to himself. "I still got it."
The Pirates right-hander had it and kept it going, at least into the seventh inning -- McRae was perfect for six frames and took a no-hitter into the seventh as Triple-A Indianapolis held off Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, 4-2.
"I felt really good," said McRae, who finished having allowed one hit over 6 2/3 innings. "It was one of those days where it seemed like whatever I was throwing up there was where I wanted it. Just one of those days where the catcher and pitcher were on the same page. Steve [Baron] and I were on the same page all game, so it helped with the rhythm and it helps keeps you in sync."
McRae (3-2) was flawless until he walked his first batter in the sixth. He yielded a one-out walk in the seventh and was finally chased after Mandy Alvarez broke up the no-hitter with a two-out double to left.
Geoff Hartlieb got the final out of the seventh and picked up his first save of the year after finishing the final two innings, allowing two runs on four hits and a walk with four strikeouts.
Gameday box score
McRae, a 26-year-old out of Jacksonville University, lowered his ERA to 5.40 with the effort. He struck out five and threw 56 of his 96 pitches for strikes, although he said he was surprised he was nearing 100 pitches when he exited.
"I felt pretty good. I didn't realize I had so many pitches," he said. "I thought it was a lower pitch count, but you always feel yourself getting a little tired. It's not something you think about, it's one of those games where everything you throw up there is exactly where you want and you're just rolling with it."
The Wisconsin native said he wanted to try and finish the seventh but understood Indians manager Brian Esposito's decision.
"I definitely wanted to finish the inning and get through seven and finish that one, but you know, our manager, Espo, he came out and said 'Great job, you're at 96, there's no need for you to go any higher. You did what you needed to do today.' It was one of those things where you understand his decision on that."
Video: Indy starter McRae gets Lavarnway swinging
McRae was Pittsburgh's 10th-round pick in the 2014 Draft and made his Major League debut last August when he appeared in 6 1/3 innings over a pair of relief outings. He spent the rest of 2018 with Indianapolis, where he went 3-10 with a 4.77 ERA and 104 strikeouts in 117 innings across 26 outings, including 19 starts.
He hasn't gotten off to the most dominant start this year -- batters came into Thursday hitting .308 off the righty -- but McRae said the stats don't reflect how well he's felt and pitched a month into the season.
2019 MiLB include
"I think I've been pitching really well," he said. "I think the numbers are a little deceiving -- I'm happy with where I'm at now. I'm executing pitches and my goal coming out here was to get a lot of weak contact with pitches. That's happening and the ball doesn't always go your way, but that stuff can kinda snowball. I'm happy with where I'm at, I'm feeling good and things look to be turning around. You've gotta stick with what you're doing and trust your stuff and things will go the right way for you."
McRae said Thursday's success stemmed from his sharp sinker and changeup, which he mixed in more than usual.
"My changeup was the best it's been in a while -- it's not a pitch I usually throw a ton, but those were working well today," he said. "At any point I could throw both for a strikeout or get weak contact or swings and misses and we rolled with that."
The perfect game was also on his and his teammates' minds, he said.
"Oh yeah, it is. I think any pitcher says they don't know they have it, they're kinda playing it off," he said. "There's not any reason to change what you're doing, so whatever's working is working and you keep doing that. [My teammates] didn't avoid me, but I had a couple guys say they were sitting in the same spot on the bench and they realized what was happening, and they wouldn't move from where they were sitting. They were pulling for me."
Indy gave McRae a lead in the third when Ke'Bryan Hayes, Pittsburgh's No. 2 prospect, plated Jake Elmore with a ground-rule double over the centerfield wall. Will Craig followed with an RBI double to left to cap the third and Patrick Kivlehan made it 3-0 with a run-scoring double in the fourth. Kivlehan added his fourth homer in the ninth.
The RailRiders, the Yankees' top affiliate, scored twice late. Mike Ford hit an RBI single in the eighth and Brad Miller slapped an RBI double in the ninth. Scranton/Wilkes-Barre starter David Hale (3-1) suffered his first loss after allowing three runs on seven hits and three walks over five innings. He struck out six.