Rusin tosses first PCL no-hitter since '09
The Pacific Coast League has a reputation as a hitters' league, but this was getting a little ridiculous.
As of Wednesday morning, the last no-hitter -- one of the greatest pitching achievements in the game -- in baseball's western Triple-A circuit had occurred when Oklahoma City right-hander Luis Mendoza fooled Salt Lake and kept the AT&T Bricktown Ballpark (now Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark) scorekeepers from touching the zero in the Bees' hit column. That was Aug. 14, 2009.
To illustrate the fickleness of the no-hitter, consider its recent history: the PCL no-hitter prior to Mendoza's was just three weeks before when Salt Lake's Sean O'Sullivan blanked Sacramento on July 28, 2009. There was a no-hitter celebrated in the interim: a potential no-no by the same Luis Mendoza (this time in 2011 with Omaha) was reversed two days later after a review changed an error into a double.
What's more, despite everything that needs to go right for a no-hitter to occur -- great pitching, good defense, maybe some luck -- the 2013 season featured a no-no in every domestic full-season league. Except the PCL.
And then Iowa left-hander Chris Rusin took the mound Wednesday morning in New Orleans. And 27 outs later, the drought had ended.
Rusin struck out three, walked two and tossed 118 pitches (72 for strikes) in the I-Cubs' 3-0 win over New Orleans to complete the PCL's first no-hitter in five years. It was the first no-no for an Iowa pitcher since Reggie Patterson completed the feat on Aug. 21, 1984.
Speaking almost two hours after the game had completed, the 27-year-old southpaw still couldn't fathom the historic event.
"It was unbelievable," Rusin said. "It went by so quick. It still hasn't really hit me yet, to be honest with you. It was one of the better moments of my career, maybe second-best behind getting called up the first time [in 2012]. It still hasn't hit me."
Rusin had to help himself early on.
Zephyrs leadoff man Matt Angle tried to bunt for a base hit on the left-hander's first pitch, but the hurler collected it and threw him out at first. He walked Josh Rodriguez right after but got Mark Canha to fly out and Justin Bour to ground out to end the game's first frame.
Those two outs started a streak of 17 straight batters retired by Rusin, who gave the Cubs a 3-0 lead with a two-run single of his own in the second inning. A leadoff walk to Rodriguez in the seventh ended the perfect run, but a Canha groundout and Bour double play kept the no-hitter intact.
"My two-seamer, sinker, cutter, slider -- they were all working well for me," said the former University of Kentucky standout. "But today was more about mixing speeds and working everything in and out. [Catcher Luis Flores] deserves a lot of credit because he and I did a good job of being on the same page. I felt like I wasn't shaking him off really at all."
As the outs piled up, Rusin, who normally has a good hold on what's going on in each of his outings, admitted it took him a while to realize the potential feat.
"As a pitcher, you always know your stats pretty well," he said. "But it went by so fast that I didn't fully realize it until the seventh or eighth. And that's when I started thinking, 'Oh wow, this could really happen.'
"At that point, you can feel the defense hanker down behind you, and that's when you know you to have bunker down if you're going to finish it off."
Entering the ninth with 94 pitches under his belt, Rusin's final frame got off to a rough start when Kyle Skipworth reached on catcher interference. The left-hander retired Zack Cox and Angel on three combined pitches and got Rodriguez to a full count when the New Orleans second baseman smacked a ball to center.
Enter the good defense.
Cubs center fielder Matt Szczur dove, stretched and snagged the ball for the game's 27th out.
"I thought off the bat, he might have found the perfect spot to get a hit," Rusin said. "Matt made the perfect catch."
The left-hander improved to 2-4 with a 3.58 ERA, 26 strikeouts and 11 walks in six starts with the I-Cubs following the first scoreless outing of his 2014 campaign. He allowed a run on three hits in five relief innings on April 12 during a brief promotion to the Majors but was sent back down immediately after.
Despite being passed over for a rotation spot in Spring Training and being denied a chance to stick last month, Rusin preferred to keep the focus on himself and not how he hoped the organization would view his latest feat.
"I just tried to go out there and get a good start," he said. "I wasn't aiming for it to be a no-hitter maybe, but I just wanted to throw as good a game as I could. Yeah, you would hope they realize it that you've thrown a no-hitter and will give it some thought. But all I can do is just go out there and get my numbers as good as they can get."
With Wednesday being an afternoon game in New Orleans, Rusin wasn't initially sure how he'd celebrate throwing the PCL's first no-hitter since 2009, but he had one idea to maybe press his luck.
"I'm not sure," he said. "I'm just kinda relaxing right now. It really hasn't hit me yet. I'll spend some time calling my family and friends and stuff like that. Maybe later I'll grab dinner with some buddies.
"Maybe I'll try to go to the casino because today seems to be my lucky day."
Sam Dykstra is a contributor to MiLB.com.