Error, last gasp double cost ex-ECU star Wright no-hitter against Bulls
The Durham Bulls narrowly avoided being no-hit by Norfolk pitcher Mike Wright, losing the rubber game of the three-game series 5-2 at Durham Bulls Athletic Park Thursday night.
Wright, who entered the game with an ERA over 5.00, struck out 11 batters and had two chances at being the first opposing pitcher in history to no-hit the Bulls in Durham.
With two outs in the ninth, Wright appeared to have the no-hitter wrapped up. Cole Figueroa hit a slow roller to shortstop. Alexi Casilla double clutched and then threw wide of first base, extending the game with an error.
“What do you want me to say?” an emotional Casilla said afterward “I screwed up the whole thing.”
That brought up Bulls right fielder Mikie Mahtook.
Wright got two strikes on Mahtook and was one strike away from his 12th strikeout and the complete-game no-hit shutout.
But it wasn’t to be.
Mahtook drove Wright’s 121st pitch of the game off the wall in right field for an RBI double, scoring Hak-Ju Lee, who'd walked, breaking up the gem.
“It was exciting,” Wright said. “Everything was working. You could feel the excitement from the crowd.”
Figueroa scored the Bulls' second run on a two-out wild pitch by relief pitcher Brock Huntzinger.
A large number of fans in the crowd were Wright’s friends and family members. The South Carolina resident and former East Carolina Pirate was making his second career start in Durham.
Despite the high pitch count, Norfolk manager Ron Johnson was determined that Wright would get the chance to finish the no-hitter. No relievers got up in the Tides bullpen until the third batter of the inning.
“I was the most nervous person in the ballpark,” Johnson said of his decision to let Wright go for it. “It’s one of those things where you just have to ask for forgiveness afterward. But no matter what happened, Mahtook was his last batter.”
“I don’t know if he’d have let me take him off the mound,” Johnson said.
The masterpiece continued a hot stretch for the number-seven prospect in the Baltimore Orioles organization after a rough introduction to Triple A.
“At the start of the season, he was having trouble getting through three innings,” Johnson said of Wright, who has shaved two runs off his ERA in two months. “His pitch counts were way up. He’s been pitching great lately.”
Norfolk put the game out of doubt early. After the game’s first two batters reached base, Dariel Alvarez hit a home run to left center. Norfolk added two more runs in the fourth, all off of starter Nathan Karns (9-7, 4.56).
Wright was philosophical about the ending and Casilla’s regrets, pointing out several great defensive plays that robbed Bulls’ batters of hits.
“Besides,” Wright added. “I have two more starts this year. I can still get one.”
NOTES -- In addition to Casilla's error which allowed Figueroa to reach first, three other Bulls' batters reached safely on walks Thursday night, so a perfect game was never in the cards ... Prior to Thursday's game, the Bulls announced that popular Durham star Vince Belnome had been optioned back to the Bulls from the parent Tampa Bay Rays. ... To make room for Belnome, the Bulls placed righthander Jake Thompson on the inactive list. ... 9,521 fans were on hand for the game. ... The first-place Bulls' magic number for clinching the International League South remains at six over second-place Norfolk.
Any combination of six Durham wins or Norfolk losses will give the Bulls the South division title.
The Bulls continue their 10-game homestand Friday with the first of four games against the Gwinnett Braves. RHP Alex Colome (6-5, 3.68) starts for the Bulls against RHP Cody Martin (6-7, 3.51) for the Braves. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05 p.m.