When Brooks Pounders lost a no-hitter in the seventh inning of a game last year, the first phone call he received was from his father. It's safe to assume his father reached out to him to talk baseball again Thursday.
Royals right-handed prospect Pounders tossed the first individual no-hitter in the six-year history of the Double-A Northwest Arkansas Naturals in their 11-0 win over the visiting Midland RockHounds on Thursday.
"I came close to one last year and he told me that it meant the world to him and that he wished I could have finished it," Pounders said of his father,
Brad, who spent five seasons in the Padres organization. "He will probably say he is very proud of me.
"I'm still really lost for words right now. I'm just taking it as it comes."
Pounders' gem in front of 3,955 fans at Arvest Ballpark was the third overall no-hitter in Naturals history.
Will Smith and Kelvin Herrera teamed up to no-hit the Arkansas Travelers in Little Rock on July 19, 2011, and Greg Holland, Chris Dwyer, Brendan Lafferty and Kendal Volz no-hit the Springfield Cardinals last May 10.
On Thursday, Pounders (3-4) threw 70 of 98 pitches for strikes and lowered his ERA to 4.02.
Making his 18th Double-A appearance -- and 10th Texas League start -- Pounders allowed just two baserunners. Darwin Perez reached on first baseman Matt Fields' fielding error in the third inning and he hit Tyler Ladendorf with a pitch with two outs in the fifth.
The Naturals batted around and scored six runs in the bottom of the eighth. Combined with an injury to Midland catcher David Freitas, Pounders sat in the dugout -- largely on his own -- for roughly 30 minutes before he came out to pitch the ninth. The long wait did not seem to bother him.
"Going into the eighth was when I realized about [the no-hitter]," the 6-foot-4 farmhand said. "Then we scored six runs and I had to sit through a pitching change and an injury. It seemed like the longest half inning of my life. I'm not the guy that will just sit in the dugout and not say anything. I have my superstitions before the game, but not in the dugout."
In the ninth, Darwin Perez flew out to center field and Conner Crumbliss hit a fly ball to left field. With two outs and an 0-1 count, Pounders induced a ground ball off the bat of D'Arby Myers. Shortstop Orlando Calixte fielded the ball cleanly and threw across to Fields as Pounders clenched his fist.
"He got jammed, so I knew it would be a close play," Pounders said of the final out. "It was bang-bang. I pumped my first and then realized it was a closer play than I thought it would be.
"In any great game like a no-hitter or a perfect game there are some big plays. [Third baseman Cheslor] Cuthbert made a great play on a chopper that he came in on in the fifth or sixth inning and [second baseman Rey] Navarro made a great play in the hole early on. Then everything in the ninth was pretty well hit."
The Naturals mobbed the 22-year-old on the infield and his teammates from the bullpen raced over from right field to join the celebration. A Gatorade bath and cream pie to the face followed.
"Before I knew it, everybody was on top of me, swarming me. I hugged [catcher Juan] Graterol and that was about it," said Pounders, who retired the final 13 batters he faced. "Graterol was in my arms before I knew it. Then the infield, then the outfielders and then the bullpen guys."
Selected by the Pirates in the second round of the 2009 Draft out of Temecula Valley High School in California, Pounders went to the Royals with Diego Goris in the deal that sent Yamaico Navarro to Pittsburgh on Dec. 7, 2011.
Pounders, now in his fifth year of pro ball, had allowed 24 runs over 27 2/3 innings in his past six starts entering Monday. Even before the game, he had no indication this performance was in the cards.
"Honestly, I came in after the first two innings and told my pitching coach [Jim Brower] that my stuff wasn't as sharp today," said Pounders, who didn't go out of his way to avoid talking to his coaches or teammates between innings. "Normally in the first couple innings, my fastball comes out really loose, but today it didn't feel like it was coming out very well.
"[In the bullpen] I had no idea. My fastball was all over the place warming up. I told myself I would have to battle through to make my pitches tonight. To be in the history books for the Northwest Arkansas Naturals is an awesome feeling. You think about the players that have come through here and you ask yourself how it has never happened before. To be the first is a real honor."