Mesa flirts with no-no, claims AFL title

Cubs' Kilian spins 6 perfect frames; A's Davidson notches 3 hits

November 21st, 2021

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Explosive offenses and lofty run totals were the norm through the fall, but with a championship on the line, it all came down to pitching.

Caleb Kilian fired six perfect innings and Nick Vespi (Orioles), Logan Gillaspie (Orioles) and Graham Spraker (Blue Jays) completed the shutout as Mesa claimed the Arizona Fall League title with a 6-0 win over Surprise on Saturday night at Salt River Fields.

“I think it’s one of the best outings of my life,” Kilian said shortly after being named the game’s Most Valuable Player. “I don’t think there’s another time I’ve done that.”

The Cubs’ No. 14 prospect, who was acquired from the Giants as part of the Kris Bryant deal in July, sat in the mid- to upper-90s with his fastball and was in complete control throughout the outing. He topped out at 98 mph, threw 48 of his 68 pitches for strikes and struck out eight, his AFL season high. If that wasn’t enough evidence of his dominance, consider that he retired 16 of the 18 batters he faced in five pitches or fewer.

“Absolute stud tonight,” Mesa manager Lance Rymel said. “He goes six innings, no hits, 18 up, 18 down. Heck of a job.”

Mesa, which featured prospects from the Baltimore, Toronto, Oakland, Miami and Chicago (NL) organizations, clinched the East Division in the season’s final week and ended with a 15-13 record. The Solar Sox won their final two games of the regular season -- including the finale on a walk-off home run from the Orioles’ Greg Cullen -- and carried that momentum with them into Saturday’s finale.

“Just a great team to play with. Everybody here, the chemistry here, we all get along,” Kilian said. “It’s going to be a little sad when we all go our separate ways, but I’m sure we’ll see each other.”

Elijah Dunham (Yankees, No. 24) broke up Mesa’s bid for a perfect game as he drew a walk in the seventh, and Drew Mount (Reds) ended the no-hitter with an eighth-inning single.

Kilian got off to a rough start in Arizona, but he regained his form and finished with a dominating stretch.

The 24-year-old gave up seven runs without getting an out in his first appearance this fall, but he surrendered just one earned run over 14 innings in his next four appearances. He twirled three straight scoreless appearances (12 innings) to finish the regular season and extended that streak with Saturday’s gem.

“It was a terrible outing, but it feels good to go from one of my worst outings at the beginning of this league, to one of my best at the end,” Kilian said. “It feels good.”

An eighth-round pick by the Giants out of Texas Tech in 2019, Kilian impressed in his first full season. He pitched to a 2.42 ERA and struck out 112 over 100 1/3 innings across High-A and Double-A.

Pitchers often talk about the advantage gleaned when pitching with a lead; Kilian was afforded that luxury as Mesa scratched across a trio of runs in the top of the first.

“It was awesome,” Kilian said. “We showed up ready to swing it. It helps a lot as a pitcher.”

The Solar Sox jumped all over Surprise starter Jacques Paucheu (Reds) and chased him after just one inning. Spencer Horwitz (Blue Jays) drove home a pair with a two-out, two-run single to right and Jonah Bride (A’s) followed up with a run-scoring single of his own.

JJ Bleday (Marlins, No. 5), one of Mesa’s best and most consistent performers throughout the fall -- having earned the Fall Stars Game MVP and a share of the league's Hitter of the Year Award -- extended the lead with a sacrifice fly in the second and drove in a run with a base hit in the fourth.

Logan Davidson, the A’s No. 12 prospect, plated a run with a hit in the sixth and did a bit of everything, finishing 3-for-4 with a walk, a stolen base, a run scored and an RBI.