“There’s 29,000 people in the ballpark and a million butterflies.”
Vin Scully said those words while broadcasting the 9th inning of Sandy Koufax’s perfect game against the Chicago Cubs in 1965 (If you want proof that Scully is the greatest broadcaster ever, here is the verbatim transcript of what he said during the final inning of that game. Keep in mind he was AD-LIBBING).
(Photo courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)
Yesterday in Louisville, 8,848 fans got to experience that edge-of-their-seat tension as Clay Buchholz took a perfect game into the bottom of the 9th inning against the Bats. And no one felt it more than the 24-year-old pitcher.
“The last two innings felt like they took forever,” Buchholz told me after the game. “It felt like that took longer than the first six or seven innings. I’m still a little jittery right now.”
Clay, of course, became the only rookie in Red Sox history to throw a no-hitter when he accomplished the feat in his 2nd big league start on September 1, 2007 vs. Baltimore. But he didn’t think he had no-hit stuff when he took the mound on Monday.
“Warming up in the bullpen was terrible,” Buchholz said. “I hit a woman in the face. . .I was throwing the ball over and I hit her right in the face. From then on I was like – man, that might be a bad omen right there.”
But Clay retired the first 24 batters with only a couple of close calls. Wes Bankston led off the 5th inning with a long fly ball that Freddy Guzman caught at the left field wall, and Norris Hopper bounced one up in the middle in the 7th, only to be robbed of a hit by PawSox second baseman Travis Denker.
Louisville’s leadoff hitter in the 9th was Danny Richar – one of two players the Cincinnati Reds obtained from the White Sox in the Ken Griffey Jr. trade last July. Buchholz’s first pitch of the 9th was a belt-high fastball over the outer part of the plate, and Richar knocked a hard ground ball to the opposite field for a clean base hit.
“(Dusty Brown) called a changeup and I shook him off and went to a fastball,” Buchholz said. “You can always second-guess it, but fastball is the pitch I wanted to throw in that situation. It was pretty fun – I’m glad it’s over though, there was a little bit of stress going on there too.”
After allowing the hit, Clay struck out Michael Griffin and Brian Peterson, before getting Norris Hopper to ground into a force play that ended the game. Pawtucket won 3-0.
“What stood out for me was in the 9th inning after he gave up the hit,” said Pawtucket pitching coach Rich Sauveur. “The poise he showed to go out and get the next three guys out on 10 pitches. There were so many things going through his head – there had to be – to lose a perfect game in the 9th but keep your poise and get the next three guys out is just phenomenal.”
“It’s unbelievable,” Buchholz told me. “I’ve never been a part of a perfect game regardless of who was pitching–whether I was pitching or somebody else. It was a pretty big thrill. That’s what baseball is all about. You’ve got your good days and bad days and today was a good day.”
The 1-hit shutout was the second 9-inning complete game of Clay’s professional career (the other obviously being his no-hitter).
Buchholz only needed 96 pitches (70 strikes) to go the distance – after throwing 93 pitches in 4.1 IP in his last start. His fastball reached 97 mph on the stadium radar gun, but was clocked at 95 mph on the PawSox gun.
Here was the breakdown vs. Louisville:
48 fastballs (36 strikes)
18 curves (11 strikes)
16 sliders (12 strikes)
14 changeups (11 strikes).
His 7 strikeouts came on:
In short, it was a memorable Memorial Day.
“The word for eight innings was ‘perfect’ and that’s exactly what he showed,” Sauveur said. “He dominated the hitters with all four pitches. His fastball command was ‘plus,’ the curveball was a ‘plus’ major league curveball, the slider was a ‘plus’ slider, and I can’t say enough about his changeup – the arm speed was phenomenal. That’s what everybody is looking for.”
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Following the afternoon game, nearly everybody on the team attended a bowling party hosted by Mark Kotsay. The team of Kotsay, Billy Traber, Chip Ambres, Carlos Maldonado, and yours truly proved to be unbeatable (thanks in large part to Ambres improving his score by about 100 pins from the practice game to the ones that counted).
My best game was a 167 making me the clear winner in the broadcasting division.
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I’ve been battling laryngitis for a few days, but my voice is slowly-but-surely returning. It had better return to full strength soon or I’m going to lose my job to Jeff Natale! In all seriousness, I thought he did a fantastic job of pinch-hitting over the weekend.
The series in Louisville continues on Tuesday night at 7:05 with a pair of lefties squaring off in Kris Johnson and Adam Pettyjohn. I hope you’ll join us for the radio call beginning with the pre-game show at 6:50 on the PawSox radio network and PawSox.com.
I’d love to hear from you. The address is firstname.lastname@example.org