Four 'Kings make history with no-hitter
Class A Clinton pitching coach Peter Woodworth looked at his four pitchers Tuesday night, then looked at the zero in Beloit's hit column on the scoreboard. He couldn't help but get choked up.
"It was everything I've dreamed of," he said. "I'm glad they got to experience it. It doesn't happen a whole lot."
Pedro Vasquez, Joey Strain, Lukas Schiraldi and Matt Walker combined on a nine-inning no-hitter Tuesday night as the LumberKings blanked Beloit, 2-0, at Ashford University Field.
"It's always fun when a starting pitcher goes nine [in a] no-hitter. Obviously, that's the goal," Woodworth said. "But to have four guys get to experience it together, they'll never, never forget that."
Making his fifth Midwest League start, Vasquez struck out four over three innings. The 20-year-old right-hander ran into a little trouble in the second as Chris Iriat reached on a wild third strike. He was erased on a forceout and catcher Arturo Nieto caught Brett Siddall trying to steal second to ensure Vasquez faced the minimum.
"That was the best he's looked so far. This is his fourth, maybe fifth start with us and he's been great every time, " Woodworth said. "But Wednesay, he was sharp, he got ahead of guys better than he has in the past and dominated all the way through the lineup."
Because Vasquez had already pitched 50 2/3 innings this season and -- as Woodworth said -- "he's just a little baby, still," he was scheduled to only go three frames. Strain (5-2), a 22-year-old right-hander, came on in the fourth, worked around his own error and fanned two without walking a batter over the next three innings.
"Joey had all three [pitches] working. And he kind of pitched a little different than he usually does, with a lot of off-speed," the pitching coach said. "We saw a very fastball-aggressive team the past couple days and he just commanded both his slider and his changeup really well to get ahead. And it made his fastball play up even more."
As Woodworth walked to the bullpen to get Schrialdi ready, he glanced at the scoreboard. Just as he would do about an hour later, he noticed the zero next to Beloit in the hit column.
"There was no no-hitter, perfect game superstition going on in the dugout. It was just the same as it was yesterday," Woodworth said. "I honestly was trying to keep it as light as possible. I was having conversations with [pitcher] Pablo Lopez, who was doing the chart with me, to try to stay in the present. I heard a couple of our infielders got a little more into the game in the seventh, eighth, ninth."
With Schriraldi on the mound, the Snappers got their only walk of the game when Skye Bolt worked a one-out free pass in the eighth. With Major League veteran father, Calvin, in the crowd, the 23-year-old struck out four of the seven batters he faced to put the LumberKings three outs from the 25th no-hitter in franchise history.
"Schrialdi has a huge weapon with his breaking ball, and in the [seventh] inning, he had decent fastball command and put himself in advantage counts to vary his breaking ball," Woodworth said. "And he had 10 swings and misses on it, but he had four strikeouts. It's a true out pitch, and he got his two-strike counts so he could throw it in the dirt when he needed to and recorded a handful of punchouts."
The LumberKings have relied on Walker to close out games all season, and Woodworth said it was obvious who should get the ball in the ninth. The 21-year-old righty, however, was a little less certain.
"It was pretty crazy. That was the most pressure I've felt in a long time …" Walker said. "I tried not to look at the scoreboard, but it was pretty tough. Everybody just came in and did their job, and I felt a little bit of pressure trying to finish the job for those guys.
Just another great night in Iowa #nohitter pic.twitter.com/lvH0tIQf2g- Matt Walker (@mwalkertxranger) August 10, 2016
Walker pushed past the nerves and quickly retired Jordan Devencenzi and Luis Barrera on comebackers. He struck out Jesus Lopez struck out, but the Snappers' No. 2 hitter reached on a wild pitch.
"It was a pretty tough pitch to block, so once it got past him, I figured I had a little bit more work to do," Walker said. "I was just trying to get ahead and hope something good would happen."
It did, as Trent Gilbert flied to left fielder Ricky Eusebio.
"I was just glad Ricky was there, camped underneath it," Woodworth said.
Eusebio secured the final out and a spot in the Midwest League record book.
"I was at a loss for words, just kind of ecstatic at that moment," Walker said after his eighth save of the season. "I looked to Nieto and he was running after me as fast as he could, so I was a little scared and then I got my foot stepped on, but yeah, it was amazing."
The no-hitter was the LumberKings' second in as many seasons after Daniel Missaki, Kody Kerski and Troy Scott combined to beat Cedar Rapids on May 1, 2015. It was the first gem at Ashford University Field since the late Victor Sanchez pitched one on July 17, 2013.
"It was surreal," said Woodworth, who joined the Clinton coaching staff in late June. "It happened very quick. Those guys were very efficient. Next thing, we looked up and it as the ninth inning. But it was incredible to watch those guys go to work and do what they do."
Dalton Kelly put the LumberKings on the board with a sacrifice fly in the first and Rafael Fernandez added to the lead with an RBI single in the second.
Kelsie Heneghan is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @Kelsie_Heneghan.