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On April 27, 2016, an announced crowd of 927 fans at L.P. Frans Stadium in Hickory, N.C. saw Hickory Crawdads pitcher Pedro Payano throw one of the most dominant games in the club’s history. Had Payano given up one fewer hit, likely 9,270 fans would claim to have been there, including myself.
(A note here: Anytime a cool event happens at L.P. Frans Stadium, I am probably not working the game. This time, I was celebrating my 53rd birthday at dinner with the wife.)
Payano threw a one-hitter against the Greensboro Grasshoppers, needing just 99 pitches (70 strikes) to claim the rare complete-game shutout for a class Low-A pitcher.
The outing started out as anything but dominant, as Anfernee Seymour of Greensboro battled Payano through a seven-pitch at bat before sending a full-count pitch lazily to center. Seymour’s at-bat turned out to be the longest plate appearance by pitches in the game.
After Payano struck out Stone Garrett to start the second inning, Rangers pitching rover Jeff Andrews made a comment to the field staff that Payano was going to throw a no-hitter.
“It was obvious when we got into the second inning and looking at some of the swings,” said Crawdads manager Steve Mintz. “And how he was able to command his fastball, and the changeup and the breaking ball just got better as he got into the middle innings… it was fun to watch.”
During his previous start a week earlier against Greenville, Payano struggled to get through five innings, needing 80 pitches (47 strikes) to get there. Although he gave up two unearned runs, he had difficulty finding a consistent arm slot and thereby had difficulty commanding his pitches, especially the fastball.
“Better fastball command,” said Payano, when asked about the difference in the two starts. “I was throwing my fastball away and in really good, and that’s why we had success. I was throwing a lot of fastballs for strikes.”
First-pitch strikes were definitely huge for Payano, as he racked up 24 of them to the 28 batters he faced.
Mintz agreed that the fastball command had a lot to do with his success, as it helped his secondary stuff become more effective.
Said Mintz, “He’s got a really, really good changeup and his breaking ball is decent. But when he pitches off his fastball, using those two, that’s when he’s most effective. Last night being able to throw the fastball inside on both sides of the plate really opened up other avenues for his pitches. That was the biggest thing for us, as we sat and watched him, was his fastball command was keen. The other stuff complimented it.”
Chuck Moorman, his catcher on Wednesday, noted that Payano had a much better rhythm during the Greensboro game than in his previous start.
“He had great tempo tonight,” Moorman said. “He was able to get ahead. We mixed in some really good sequences.”
Those sequences paid off in the manner of getting quick outs for much of the night. After walking Isael Soto with one out in the second – the only other seven-pitch at-bat of the game – Payano threw five pitches or less to 22 straight hitters, hitting the five-pitch mark just three times.After Payano needed 42 pitches to get through the first three innings, he threw four straight innings of ten or fewer pitches (44 total), three of those single digits.
“We were also on the same page,” said Moorman. It’s fun to catch a guy that can command all four pitches in any count at any time.”
As the innings went on and the idea of a potential no-hitter became real, Payano said he wasn’t so much nervous about pitching in the moment. “I was good, I was good,” Payano said through a laugh when asked about his reaction when he realized in middle innings he had a no-hitter in tact. His main focus then became to keep the situation out of his mind, as fellow teammates began to ignore him.
Payano said, “I stayed by myself and said, ‘Hey, I’m not going to think about this. Let me keep going.’”
Going and going he did. Having only 77 pitches through seven innings, there was no question in Mintz’s mind that Payano was going to get a shot at achieving the no-hitter.
“We have pitch counts and all that type stuff, but when you get into special moments like that – obviously, we’re not going to put the kid in jeopardy of hurting him – but if we can push him 10, 12, 15 pitches in order to be able to accomplish something like that, we’ll give him an opportunity… He looked strong. He stayed strong, even in the seventh and eighth innings, he was still throwing 92-93 mph. He looked good and he didn’t labor at all the whole night.”
The no-hitter was broken up by Soto to open up the eighth, as he sent a broken-bat flare over the head of shortstop Yeyson Yrizarri and into left.
“I’m good with that,” said Payano. “It was a blooper past the shortstop. It was a good pitch.”
It was assumed by several observers that with the no-hitter gone Payano’s night would conclude at the point. But after a mound visit by pitching coach Jose Jaimes, Payano stayed in and got Angel Reyes to hit the first pitch into a double play.
Still only at 86 pitches through eight – he had already thrown 91 during his first start of the season – Payano was sent back out for the ninth to try for the shutout.
“I felt good,” said Payano, when asked about getting a chance to get the complete game. “I felt normal. When I got done with the eighth inning, I said to myself, ‘I’m probably going to be done with this.’ But then Jaimes told me, ‘Hey, you’ve got to finish this. You’re going to go out again and finish this.’”
Payano needed just 13 pitches to strike out two of the three batters in the ninth, including Seymour for the final out and the 11th of the game.
Crawdads No-hitter History:
The team has thrown four no-hitters in their history, but just one of those was a complete game.
Wayne Lindemann still claims the distinction of having the only complete-game, nine-inning “no-no”, which came against the Albany (Ga.) Polecats in Albany on May 15, 1993.
The next no-hitter, and the first one of two that came at home, was on July 26, 2004 against the Charleston (WV) Alley Cats. Brian Holliday pitched the first 7.1 innings and surrendered two walks and a hit batsman, fanning 11. Chris Demaria retired all five batters he faced to complete the no-hitter.
Martin Perez made a strong impression to Crawdads fans and the baseball world in his first start for the team in 2009. In the first game of a doubleheader on April 11, 2009, Perez, who had turned 18 the week prior, tossed four no-hit innings in a home outing against the Bowling Green (Ky.) Hot Rods. The future Texas Rangers big leaguer struck out six and walked three before giving way to Tyler Tufts for two perfect innings and Fabio Castillo for the seventh to close out the game.
The last no-hitter for Hickory came on May 19, 2013 in the first game of a doubleheader. It also began with a pitcher making his first Low-A start, as Luis Parra shutout Delmarva (Md.) over the first three innings with one walk and three strikeouts. Keone Kela threw a scoreless fourth and struck out one. Ryan Bores walked one and struck out one over the fifth and sixth innings before Alex Claudio pitched a perfect seventh with one strikeout to close it out.
Recent complete game shutouts:
2000: Future major league pitcher Dave Williams and Jose Luis Lopez each threw a shutout that season.
2001: Brady Borner tossed one for the Crawdads
2003: Zach Duke had a one-hitter in a seven-inning whitewash during game one of a doubleheader at Rome, Ga. The lefty hit one batter and struck out four Braves in the June 12, 2004 contest.
2006: Luis Valdez, later to be known in the big leagues as Jairo Asencio, threw a five-hit, nine-inning shutout against Delmarva on July 17. The right hander allowed one walk and struck out seven in the game, which ended on Zach Dillon’s game-ending double play. While still atop the mound, Asencio pounded his glove and gave a point to the sky in celebration at the end of the one-hour, 56-minute contest. Asencio’s outing was also the last home complete-game shutout until Payano’s feat. Overall, it was the last such feat under the Pirates affiliation.
2010: Right-hander Joe Wieland tossed a five-hitter at the Hagerstown Suns on June 25th of that season, ending the game with one walk and five strikeouts. Wieland was perfect through four innings and carried a no-hitter into the sixth before Sandy Leon singled to right with two outs. It turned out to be his last start in a Crawdads uniform as Wieland was promoted to class High-A Bakersfield soon after. Wieland eventually got his no-hitter while pitching for AA Frisco against San Antonio. Similar to the events following his shutout with Hickory, Wieland was traded to the Padres in a July trade-deadline deal and finished that series with San Antonio.
Jake Brigham had the last nine-inning, complete game shutout prior to Payano’s gem on August 10 at Greensboro. The game started ominously for Brigham as Wes Long singled to left and Chase Austin reached on a bunt. Brigham got a break with Jeff Corsaletti lined into a double play. He then retired the next 25 batters he faced in the game and struck out 12.
2012: Lefty Victor Payano had the last shutout of any kind as he put up a rain-shortened whitewash at Savannah against the Sand Gnats. He allowed one hit, two walks and struck out three over five innings before inclement weather washed out the final four innings. Hickory scored an unearned run in the third against now major leaguer Michael Fulmer. The win was an important one for Hickory manager Bill Richardson, as it made him at the time the winningest manager in Crawdads history.