In the lower levels of the Minors, every perfect-game or no-hit bid eventually reaches an awkward point in which a young pitcher's shot at history runs up against his pitch count.
Tyler Thornburg just about reached that point Monday.
The right-hander went 7 1/3 innings without allowing a batter to reach base before Michael Burgess' ground ball found a hole up the middle.
Thornburg nearly put his coaches in a tough spot in Double-A Huntsville's 5-2 win over Tennessee.
"It's always hard in the Minor Leagues because they have you on such a strict pitch count. You get foul balls, 3-2 counts and it becomes hard to do that," he said. "I think they were kind of hoping it wouldn't get [to the ninth], because they said when I came out they didn't know what they were going to do."
Thornburg might have pushed the issue just a little longer, if not for Burgess' well-placed grounder.
"[The hit] came on a 3-2 outside fastball. We had our second baseman [Scooter Gennett] kind of shaded in the four-hole and it just chopped right through the infield," he said.
As it was, Milwaukee's No. 4 prospect still came away with his first win of the season. The 2010 third-round pick struck out 11, and was charged with one run on the lone hit he allowed before coming out with 98 pitches under his belt.
After striking out 160 batters in 136 2/3 innings between Class A Wisconsin and Class A Advanced Brevard County last year, Thornburg is off to a similar start this season. In three starts, he's fanned 24 over 18 1/3 innings while sporting a 0.98 ERA. Thornburg also fanned five in five innings at the Brewers' Major League camp this offseason.
On Monday, the Houston native said he relied largely on his fastball-change-up combination to get through the Smokies' lineup the first time and then started mixing in his curveball to continue retiring Tennessee batters.
"As it got into the fifth and sixth and seventh they started swinging early, so it was hard to figure out what pitches to throw in what counts because they were swinging at pretty much everything," he said. "[A perfect game] is one of those things you notice early on, but you really don't start thinking about it until you get past the fifth or sixth.
"I loved it, though. It's always fun when something like that's going on. The adrenaline helps you out late in the ball game and overall it's great.
While Gennett wasn't in a position to make the play that might've saved the perfect game, he was largely responsible for Thornburg's offensive support. Milwaukee's No. 6 prospect went 3-for-4 with a pair of home runs, his first ones of the season. The 2009 16th-rounder also drove in four runs.
No. 14 Brewers prospect Brock Kjeldgaard doubled in the Stars' other run. Gennett's infield partner, shortstop Jeff Bianchi, went 2-for-4 and scored twice.
Robert Wooten allowed one run on three hits over two-thirds of an inning in relief of Thornburg. Josh Stinson capped off the game with a perfect ninth.