Smokies' Jokisch no-hits Suns
His jersey was untucked, his cap nowhere to be found. But as Eric Jokisch -- wet from an impromptu Gatorade bath -- strolled off the field with the baseball from the final out clutched firmly in his left hand, he could not have felt any better.
The Cubs prospect pitched Double-A Tennessee's first no-hitter in six years as the Smokies routed the red-hot Jacksonville Suns, 10-0, on Tuesday night.
"I could not be more thrilled with the way life is," Jokisch said as he boarded the team bus to raucous cheers and applause. "This is probably the best day of my life. I will try and get [the ball] home as safely and quickly as possible. That's something I will keep forever and hopefully tell my kids and grandkids that it happened.
"I grew up just hoping one day to throw a no-hitter in the Major Leagues. This isn't the same, but right now I don't think I could feel any happier about the way things are going."
The 24-year-old left-hander struck out eight batters, walked four and threw 69 of a season-high 108 pitches for strikes in his first game off the seven-day disabled list with shoulder spasms.
Has the achievement has sunk in yet?
"Maybe a little bit," he said. "I was taking a shower and it just hit me, and I had to stay in there a little bit when I realized what had happened. About a month ago, I told somebody about a dream where I was in the middle of a no-hitter, but I woke up in the fourth inning. I couldn't get through four innings, so I never imagined I could make it through nine. And I wouldn't have tonight if it wasn't for my teammates.
"I told [athletic trainer] Scott Barringer about [the dream] and he told me that I would get it one day. I had forgotten about it until he brought it up today."
The Smokies' last Smokies no-hitter came on June 21, 2007, when Mark Holliman hurled a seven-inning gem to beat Huntsville, 3-0.
Jokisch allowed just a fourth-inning walk to Chris Gutierrez over the first six frames. He issued two-out free passes in each of the final three innings, but no runner advanced past first base.
"I realized in the third inning," Jokisch said of the no-hit bid, "but I said, 'Eric, you can't be thinking about it in the third, there's way too much time left.' Then, by the seventh and eighth, I couldn't stop thinking about it. In the ninth, I told myself to enjoy the moment I was in."
The ninth saw the Smokies rally around their starter. Third baseman Christian Villanueva snared a line drive off the bat of Isaac Galloway to begin the inning and shortstop Javier Baez laid out to his left to stab a would-be base hit from Gutierrez.
Villanueva sealed the no-hitter when he fielded pitcher Pete Andrelczyk's high chopper and fired to first to beat him by half a step.
"Javier Baez and Christian Villanueva made some of the best plays I have ever seen under the circumstances," Jokisch said. "I thought the ground ball was going to get by Villa, but he made an unbelievable play that every no-hitter has to have. Then the next [by Baez] was even more unbelievable. I owe them something. I'll have to think about it on the bus.
"[The final out], my first thought was that the pitcher had got a hit off me. Then, when Villanueva backed up and threw to first, I just saw a lot of people charging at me. It was something I could not have dreamed of."
It was the first Southern League no-hitter since five Huntsville pitchers combined to beat Chattanooga, 3-1, last Aug. 2. In that game, Jimmy Nelson went four innings and Dan Merklinger, R.J. Seidel, Darren Byrd and Brandon Kintzler worked the final five frames.
Matt Moore pitched the last individual no-hitter in the circuit for Montgomery on June 16, 2011 against Mobile.
The outing was a nice bounce-back performance for Jokisch (9-10), who has struggled at times during his second season in the Southern League.
Selected by the Cubs in the 11th round of the 2010 Draft out of Northwestern University, he had allowed six runs in each of his previous two outings and had lost three straight.
"A big part of it was the injury," said Jokisch, who recently abandoned his curveball in favor of a pitch that is part slider, part cutter. "It was starting to bother me and it was getting too tight for me to fight through it. The job [Barringer and strength coach Ryan Clausen] did was huge. They did a great job to get me ready for this game."
Jokisch was 7-2 with a 2.91 ERA in 18 Double-A appearances last season and lowered his ERA to 3.57 in 22 starts year.
Obscure by the historic pitching performance was the support provided by the offense as the Smokies ended the Suns' 11-game winning streak.
Baez went 4-for-6 with two doubles, three RBIs and three runs scored in his fourth consecutive multi-hit game. After starting Tennessee's road trip 0-for-4, he's 11-for-18 with five doubles.
The Cubs' top prospect laced an RBI double in the first inning and delivered an RBI single with two outs in the second. Baez singled again leading off the fourth, then ripped a double to chase home another run with one out in the fifth.
Ashley Marshall is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AshMarshallMLB.