With three pitchers having tossed nine perfect innings and baseball tradition dictating how to treat those in the spotlight during such a feat, did the Class A Advanced Rawhide have to avoid multiple players in their dugout Wednesday night?
"I don't think we were avoiding them," Visalia pitching coach Jeff Bajenaru laughed. "We obviously don't talk about it, but I don't think anybody consciously avoided them because it was such a group effort. I went over between innings and just said, 'Keep attacking. You're doing a great job.' But it was a little different because it wasn't [just] a starter."
Arizona prospects Joel Payamps, Kirby Bellow and Cameron Gann carried a perfect game into the 10th inning, and despite reliever Bud Jeter allowing a hit in the final frame, the Rawhide held on for a 2-0 win over the Lake Elsinore Storm at The Diamond.
"I've never been part of a perfect game," Bajenaru said. "I was part of a no-hitter when I played way back in the day, so it was pretty exciting. The craziest part is it was a 0-0 game into the 10th. We were more concerned with winning obviously, but a perfect game would've been a cherry on top."
Payamps set a dominant tone in his second outing of 2017, bouncing back after allowing six runs on 11 hits over five innings at Lancaster five days ago to retire all 15 men he faced in Lake Elsinore, eight via strikeouts.
"We've been really working with him about getting extension out front," Bajenaru said. "He's been leaving some pitches up in the zone, not finishing stuff, so we've really been getting into his legs a lot more. Man, everything tonight was down at the knees or below and elevated when he needed to, but more on purpose than accident. He had a solid gameplan. [Catcher] Matt Jones behind the plate was pushing all the right buttons as well."
Payamps struck out at least one batter in all five of his innings and needed only 50 pitches, throwing 41 for strikes before reaching his limit.
"We've got our starters right now going five for the first month just to keep them at their innings limits for the year, so we don't have to either shut them down or back them down at the end of the year," Bajenaru said. "It's one of those things where I want to get him some more innings because he was so efficient. It's probably the best game I've seen him throw as far as that goes.
"Bottom line is he wasn't going to finish the game, so even if he'd gotten one or two more (innings), we still had a pitch count on him. It was tough to pull him, but he did a great job."
The feel for the night was set. Bellow fanned three over 2 1/3 innings, and Gann followed with four more strikeouts in 1 2/3 frames. But the Rawhide couldn't get anything going at the plate, and the game headed to extras scoreless.
"Our hitters were grinding, and they were doing everything they could to get something going," Bajenaru said. "It's not like we weren't trying there. It just was a crazy pitchers' duel. As soon as we broke through, it was big-time energy."
The Rawhide's break finally came in the 10th thanks to Jones. After Colin Bray's one-out single to center, the backstop belted a two-run homer to right field.MiLB include
With three outs to go, the Rawhide turned to Jeter to attempt to finish the perfect game, but after striking out leadoff man Michael Gettys, Jeter gave up a one-out triple to right by Chris Baker. Had Visalia finished the feat, it would have been the California League's first perfect game since San Bernardino's Marcos Castillo tossed one in a 4-0 win over Lake Elsinore on June 14, 1999. The last California League extra-innings no-hitter came from Lancaster's Robert Donovan, Edwin Walker, David Berner, David Carpenter and Jose Trinidad in a 3-1 win, also over Lake Elsinore.
"It was a little bit of a letdown," Bajenaru said of Gettys' hit with just two outs to go. "But at the same time, you couldn't ask for anything more from the staff. It was inevitable they were going to get a hit at some point if we went 13, 14 innings, but of course you're always just hoping that they don't to make it more of a storybook game."
The win gave Visalia a 5-2 record on its season-opening road trip, tied for the best mark in the California League with Stockton. Bajenaru appreciated the impact of the group effort.
"You see what happens when you do these things, have a solid gameplan, attack, have good pace about your game," he said. "You carry it over and see what it does to opponents' hitters. It's a great, great building block."