Nearly a no-no

Free­land just two outs short of Rock­ies’ first no-hit­ter at Coors Field

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Nick Groke

Ninety min­utes be­fore Kyle Free­land pitched the game of his life, a road map ap­peared by prophecy from some­where in the ether, like watch­ing a movie be­fore it is filmed. We will never know the ori­gin.

“I don’t have a crys­tal ball. I wish I had a crys­tal ball. But that would be no fun,” Rock­ies man­ager Bud Black said. “That’s why we play. We all come to see what will hap­pen. That’s the beauty of it. We don’t know.”

Oh, but he did know. Black knew down to the de­tail.

“You know what the first pitch of the game is go­ing to be? I do,” Black said in Colorado’s dugout. “It’s go­ing to be a fast­ball, in­tended to go down and away. I don’t know if it’s go­ing to be a strike. I know it’s go­ing to be a fast­ball. Two-seam fast­ball. I hope it’s 91 mph with ac­tion.”

Free­land’s first pitch Sun­day on his way to more than eight in­nings of a no-hit bid was a 91 mph, twoseam fast­ball down and away for a called strike. Ev­ery­thing af­ter it was laid out in near per­fec­tion in the Rock­ies’ 10-0 vic­tory over the Chicago White Sox at Coors Field.

The 24-year-old rookie left­hander, Den­ver’s own, pitched 8L in­nings with­out al­low­ing a hit, and dealt with just four baserun­ners, un­til Melky Cabr­era lofted a soft sin­gle to left field with one out in the ninth. Jor­dan Lyles mopped up the fi­nal two outs in or­der.

“We went in-out, up-down, keep

them guess­ing on a lot of things,” Free­land said. “It was a good team win. It was fun to bat­tle out there.”

Free­land’s dom­i­nat­ing per­for­mance was the long­est run of outs with­out a hit al­lowed by a Rock­ies pitcher in Coors Field history. Also, it was two outs shy of match­ing Ubaldo Jimenez’s no­hit­ter for the Rock­ies in At­lanta in 2010, and was a hair short of match­ing Hideo Nomo’s no-no for the Los An­ge­les Dodgers on a shiv­er­ing-cold Septem­ber night in Den­ver in 1996.

It stands among the best­pitched home games in club history, which in­clude Jon Gray’s 16strike­out vic­tory last Septem­ber. Free­land fin­ished with nine strike­outs and just three walks. He hit one bat­ter, Jose Abreu, on a dis­puted call in the fourth in­ning. When he went to the mound in the eighth, with anx­i­ety run­ning as high as his pitch count, even Free­land’s dad couldn’t watch.

“I think he ran away to hide,” Free­land said.

His pend­ing no-hit­ter rolled into view with a buf­fer. Char­lie Black­mon rocked his team­lead­ing 20th home run to lead off a break­out five-run sixth in­ning, a 477-foot shot off the chicken sign be­hind the bullpens in right­cen­ter that was the long­est Rock­ies homer this sea­son.

Ger­ardo Parra then sin­gled in Alexi Amarista, and short­stop Pat Valaika lined a three-run homer to the left-field bleach­ers as Colorado took a 7-0 lead.

Nev­er­mind that Free­land, per­haps the club’s best hit­ting pitcher, struck out three times. His job is to throw, not swing. Seven of the other eight Rock­ies in the start­ing lineup got on base at least twice. Valaika’s sin­gle to right in the eighth gave him a ca­reer-high five RBIs.

But Free­land hit any­way. At 99 pitches, hav­ing thrown more than 100 only once in his ca­reer, but with a no-hit­ter in the hop­per, Black let his rookie bat in the sev­enth. He lined a sin­gle to cen­ter to score Mark Reynolds, and the Rock­ies led 10-0.

Back in the sev­enth, Free­land fi­nally faced some trou­ble. He walked Abreu to lead off. He walked Todd Fra­zier de­spite a ball-three call that should have been strike three. But his fast­ball broke the bat of Avi­sail Gar­cia, who grounded weakly to short­stop for a dou­ble play — the Rock­ies’ 101st dou­ble play this sea­son, more than any other team in the ma­jors.

So when he re­turned for the eighth, ready to pitch into un­seen ter­ri­tory, Free­land had help. Coors Field fell strangely quiet be­tween pitches, not for lack of at­ten­tion but in gen­uine ner­vous­ness. Un­til Yolmer Sanchez blooped a soft fly­ball to left field, and Parra sprinted a line straight in front of him­self and dived to­ward home to make a catch. LoDo came alive and Free­land was pro­pelled. He struck out Omar Navarez, who flung his bat in a wild fol­low-through, and he whiffed pinch-hit­ter Willy Gar­cia on pitch No. 116.

“It was funny, af­ter my last at-bat, af­ter I popped up, I went straight to the dugout and put my glove on,” said third base­man Nolan Are­nado. “I was like, ‘Dude I’m ready for this. Let’s go. I don’t even want to hit. I want to play de­fense.’ ”

Free­land dug deep to strike out Adam En­gel to start the ninth; En­gel also had K’d to open the game. Cabr­era’s soft sin­gle to left field just over Are­nado ended the no­hit bid.

“I wasn’t think­ing about any­thing else, just a good pitch to hit,” said Cabr­era, who ap­plauded Free­land at first base and shrugged his shoul­ders. “You have to give credit to him.”

Then the rest of Coors Field thun­dered in ap­pre­ci­a­tion af­ter Black pulled his pitcher. Free­land waved his cap while walk­ing to the Rock­ies’ dugout.

“When I walked out of the dugout (to pitch the ninth in­ning) and the crowd gave a big roar, it was kind of a black­out mo­ment,” Free­land said. “I made my pitch and he made a good enough swing to get it.”

He was a 16-year-old kid at Thomas Jef­fer­son High School on Den­ver’s south side when Jimenez pitched the only no-hit­ter in Rock­ies history, in At­lanta on April 17, 2010. Jimenez gave up six walks in that game. The Rock­ies only once com­bined for a one­hit­ter at Coors Field, in 2006, when Ja­son Jen­nings gave up the only hit in the first in­ning and two re­liev­ers helped him along.

Two years af­ter Jimenez’s no­hit­ter, Free­land pitched one of his own — in a high school game, se­nior year, over five in­nings for Thomas Jef­fer­son against ri­val Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton.

But no one could have pre­dicted Free­land, in his first big-league sea­son, just 18 starts into a ca­reer, might have the stuff for a Coors Field no-hit­ter. His 8-7 record com­ing in, with a 4.09 ERA, spelled an im­pres­sive start. But they were only baby steps. His man­ager’s pregame vi­sion fore­saw only one pitch. Free­land fol­lowed with 125 more, nearly all of them with pur­pose and con­vic­tion. He nearly did it.

“This game is played by hu­man be­ings with emo­tion. And you just don’t know,” Black said. “I knew what the first pitch was go­ing to be. But no­body knew he was go­ing to take a no-hit­ter into the ninth. It was a great base­ball game. It was great the­ater, great drama.”

Matthew Stockman, Getty Images

Rock­ies rookie left-han­der Kyle Free­land cel­e­brates af­ter get­ting through the eighth in­ning Sun­day with­out al­low­ing a hit against the White Sox.

Matthew Stockman, Getty Images

Alexi Amarista scores for the Rock­ies dur­ing the sixth in­ning Sun­day against catcher Omar Nar­vaez and the Chicago White Sox in the teams’ se­ries fi­nale at Coors Field.

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