Bullpen preserves gem after Harang flirts with history
Righty departs after throwing 121 pitches over seven no-hit innings
NEW YORK -- Manager Fredi Gonzalez did not enjoy telling Aaron Harang that he would not have the opportunity to complete his no-hit bid, but this decision seemed wiser than the selfish one that might have denied Harang the chance to continue building upon the incredible success he has had during this season's first three weeks.
"I want to see him throw a no-hitter, but I think you get to a point where you have to worry about 25 more starts," Gonzalez said. "You have to worry about his longevity and all of that kind of stuff. I think we made the right decision. It doesn't matter who comes in and tells me different."
Even if Harang remains healthy over the remainder of the season, he might never again have the opportunity he created during the 6-0 win the Braves claimed against the Mets on Friday night at Citi Field. But the 35-year-old veteran knows that had he been permitted to enter the eighth inning with a no-hit bid alive and his pitch count at 121, he might have risked all that he has put into revitalizing his career.
"You look back and appreciate those things where your manager is looking out for you and taking care of you, making sure you're going to make your next start and many more starts throughout the season," Harang said.
After Harang completed his seven hitless innings, David Wright ended Atlanta's bid for a combined no-hitter in the eighth inning with a two-out single to left field against Luis Avilan, who was making his first appearance since blowing a four-run lead during Monday night's comeback win over the Phillies.
With Wright's single the only hit recorded by the Mets, it was the first time the Braves tossed a one-hitter since Julio Teheran and David Carpenter combined to limit the Pirates to one hit on June 5 of last season.
When asked if he is disappointed that the Braves did not record the first combined no-hitter since the Mariners turned the trick in 2012, Avilan said, "I blew a four-run game [earlier this week]. Anything is better than that."
After a pair of walks in the sixth inning increased his pitch count to 98, Harang needed just three pitches to record his first two outs in the seventh. But once he issued consecutive seven-pitch walks to Travis d'Arnaud and Ruben Tejada, he essentially eliminated any chance that he would return for the eighth. He ended his night by recording his fifth strikeout, of pinch-hitter Andrew Brown.
"His [stuff] was moving everywhere," Wright said. "It was a good day for him today. He threw any pitch in any count -- two-seamers, cutters, sliders, curveballs, changeups. You name it, he was throwing it and felt comfortable in any count. … I think he threw [Andrew Brown] a 3-2 slider or curveball, so you could tell just how confident he was."
Harang's competitive fire led him to initially lobby to remain in the game after he'd completed the seventh inning and found Gonzalez waiting to deliver the tough message.
"I came in and said, 'I'm good, I got this, just have somebody up and ready to go,'" Harang said. "[Gonzalez] was biting his lip. He was like, 'Dude, I hate doing this.' But the fact that I went through it a few years ago in San Diego, I know how it works, and you see guys get hurt and they're just not the same after that."
Harang was referring to Padres manager Bud Black's decision to pull him after he had thrown six hitless innings against the Dodgers on July 9, 2011. Black's reasoning was influenced by the fact that Harang was making his first start after a month-long stint on the disabled list.
Just two years ago, left-hander Johan Santana stood on this same Citi Field mound and tossed 134 pitches in recording the only no-hitter in Mets history. He has made just 10 starts since then, and there's a good chance he'll never pitch at the Major League level again.
That is not the kind of risk Gonzalez was willing to make with Harang, who has a Major League-best 0.70 ERA through the four starts he has made since the Braves signed him on March 24, just hours after he was released by the Indians.
"I want him pitching 27 more times," Gonzalez said. "If it was the ninth inning going out, yeah, maybe you think about it a little bit. But he's a 35-year-old right-hander who threw 121 pitches. You've got no chance. I told him to blame me."
When Harang threw what proved to be his final pitch, the game's only run had scored courtesy of Chris Johnson, who started his three-hit night with an RBI double in the second inning against Mets left-hander Jon Niese, who allowed one run on four hits over six innings.
As the Braves constructed their four-run eighth, which was highlighted by Freddie Freeman's two-run homer off Gonzalez Germen, Gonzalez did not have any temptation to allow Harang to continue.
"If he has a clean seventh and his pitch count is 108 going into the eighth, then you run him out there, because you're a fan and you want him to do well," Gonzalez said. "You want him to get that no-hitter. But I think it gets to a point where you chase that no-hitter or chase that dragon and the next thing you know, you'll look up and it's going to be 140 [pitches]. That doesn't do anybody any good."
Harang has now carried a no-hit bid into the seventh inning of two of his first four starts this season. In his season debut, in Milwaukee on April 2, he kept the Brewers hitless until Logan Schafer opened the bottom of the seventh with a single.
"It wasn't meant to be today, but he's been doing great so far," Johnson said. "So I don't see why the next time he goes out there, he's not going to go out and do it again."