They don't get much closer than that.
Tim Cooney came within one out of a no-hitter, but settled for a one-hit shutout as Triple-A Memphis topped Iowa, 4-0, at AutoZone Park on Thurday. The ninth-ranked Cardinals prospect struck out seven and walked two.
"I just couldn't finish it, but I'm happy with the way I pitched," Cooney said. "I started out exactly how wanted to pitch. I threw a lot of strikes. All four of my pitches were working, and the defense made a lot of good plays behind me as the game went on."
The 23-year-old southpaw fanned Javier Baez, baseball's No. 6 prospect, to end the game. But sixth-ranked Cubs prospect Arismendy Alcantara ended his bid at the first no-no in Redbirds franchise history on the first pitch of the game's penultimate at-bat.
"After I struck out the last hitter, I was relieved that the game over. I was happy that we won and I still didn't give up any runs," Cooney said. "But at the same time, it was tough, because going into the inning, I was so dead set on coming out with the no-no."
He took some comfort in Alcantara's single through the left side being a clean hit that he couldn't have done anything too prevent.
"It was a decent pitch. He hit a grounder right where no one was playing," Cooney said. "Part of any no-hitter is the luck aspect. You need them to hit the ball at guys. It stinks that when it happened, it came at the last out, but it wasn't a cheap hit or anything like that."
Cooney improved to 5-4 with a 3.83 ERA in the Pacific Coast League, and he was perfect until he gave up a one-out walk to Ryan Kalish in the fifth. Kalish moved to second on a wild pitch, but Cooney struck out Christian Villanueva and Casper Wells to end the frame.
"That was awesome," Cooney said. "At that point, it was still a pretty close game. That's something I've been really trying to work on, compared to last year. I was better with no runners on than with runners on, so I've wanted to improve on that."
Beginning with Villanueva's whiff, Cooney set down a string of 13 in a row.
"In the fourth or fifth inning, I thought this was probably my best start in a game this year, maybe even going through last year," said the Wake Forest product. "Then each inning, I got progressively more hopeful, like, 'Oh, God! I haven't given up a hit yet.'"
His teammates were clearly aware of that fact too, and they gave Cooney plenty of space.
"I didn't say a word to anybody after the fourth inning," he said. "It was pretty weird."
In the bottom of the eighth, Cooney stood in the on-deck circle with two outs. Memphis' Thomas Pham was retired on strikes and Cooney didn't get to bat.
"I was actually hoping I'd get to hit. It would get my mind off the no-hitter aspect of the outing and get me feeling like I was just playing a game," he said. "I mean, I didn't really care -- I was still going to be focused on pitching -- but I'd hoped to hit."
Despite throwing 101 pitches -- 63 for strikes -- Cooney insisted fatigue wasn't a factor in the Alcantara hit, nor the Matt Szczur walk that preceded it.
"No, I really wasn't [tired]," he said. "I came in calm and I didn't really go out too fast early on. My velocity actually may have gotten better as the game went on. My control wavered a little bit maybe here and there later, but everything was still working for me pretty steady overall."
Cooney was particularly happy with the outing considering how his day started.
"Earlier today, I was feeling a little sick and kind of groggy," he said.
As he warmed up, though, he felt confident in all his pitches -- fastball, changeup, curve and cutter -- and knew he was ready to go.
"Once the game started," he said, "I was pitching pretty well."
No. 11 Cardinals prospect Randal Grichuk hit his 10th PCL homer in the win, and Pham doubled twice and scored three runs. Pete Kozma went 3-for-4 with a pair of doubles and two runs.
Josh Jackson is a contributor to MiLB.com.