Smyly flirts with perfection before collision

Pitcher, catcher can laugh off eighth-inning incident after blowout win over Dodgers

April 22nd, 2023

CHICAGO --  hustled off the mound and reached down to grab the baseball bouncing in the grass up the third-base line. Cubs catcher Yan Gomes was also in pursuit, leading to a clash with history.

Gomes jumped over Smyly's back in an effort to avoid the pitcher, who dropped to the ground under the catcher's weight. And with that improbable infield hit off the bat of the Dodgers' David Peralta, a perfect game slipped from Smyly's grasp at the outset of the eighth inning on Friday afternoon.

"Him and Yan were in lockstep," said Cubs manager David Ross, who then smirked. "Right up there until the end, I guess."

In a 13-0 victory, Smyly was confounding the Dodgers, inducing constant weak contact with his heavy mix of fastballs and knuckle-curves in a 10-strikeout gem over 7 2/3 innings. It was enough to still have the Wrigley Field fans roaring when Smyly walked off the hill. And the pitcher pounded his glove and raised his cap toward the light-blue sky in appreciation.

Seven years removed from Jake Arrieta's no-hitter in a 16-0 romp over the Reds, Smyly flirted with the 18th no-no in the annals of Chicago's long, storied franchise. Milt Pappas remains the last Cubs pitcher to hurl a no-hitter at the Friendly Confines, achieving the feat in 1972.

"It's amazing," Smyly said of the crowd's ovation. "I've said it before. Pitching here at Wrigley Field is so special. It's so awesome. Every single game, the atmosphere is off the charts compared to anywhere else you go in this league."

Imagine the decibel level had Smyly put his name in the record books. Alas, the Cubs still have not had a pitcher throw a perfect game.

Smyly came close, setting down 21 batters in a row before Peralta -- a late substitute for Max Muncy -- chopped an 0-1 breaking ball up the line and into what the pitcher called "the perfect space." Oh, the irony.

"It's a hard play," Ross said. "Yan's coming out -- it's do or die. He's about to turn and throw it as hard as he can. I thought Drew got a really good jump on it. Peralta's a decent runner. It's a tough play. He had soft contact all night. It's kind of fitting that it ended with probably the softest."

In fact, the 32.9 mph squibber off Peralta's bat was the softest-hit ball in play against Smyly on the day. The 33-year-old left-hander entered the afternoon allowing an average exit velocity of 84.2 mph on the season (93rd percentile in MLB, per Statcast). On the day, the average was 76.7 mph.

The veteran Gomes would have needed to spin and fire the ball to first baseman Trey Mancini. As a lefty, Smyly might have been in a better position to make a quick throw to narrowly beat Peralta. The pitcher said his mistake was not calling for it after Gomes yelled, “I got it!”

After the win, Gomes walked into the locker room wearing a football helmet, making light of his "tackle" that took down history.

"I guess he didn't think he was going to be recovering a fumble today," Gomes quipped. "Both of us wanted it. He got to it before I did and I'm not as quick as I used to be trying to jump out of the way. And I just ended up riding him, and it ended up becoming a cool picture."

How did Gomes feel in the immediate aftermath of the play?

"I wanted to dig myself a hole and just hide," said the catcher.

"It's a tough way to end it," Smyly agreed. "You feel like you're really close and executed a good pitch. Good curveball, and he barely hit it. Capped it. It wasn't going to go foul.

"One of us had to make the play. I know Yan wanted it just as bad as I did."

Gomes wanted to be sure that the way the perfect game ended did not take away from the one-hit, 7 2/3-inning masterpiece that Smyly fashioned. The catcher called it a "very simple Drew Smyly drawn-up" plan, which featured 55 curves, 48 two-seamers and nothing else. The lefty generated 18 whiffs (10 via curve and eight by way of heater).

After Smyly and Gomes navigated the Los Angeles lineup last Sunday at Dodger Stadium, they wanted to stay aggressive in the zone and only veer off the plan if the Dodgers forced an adjustment. Smyly got into a rhythm, the offense gave him a surplus of support and -- with the exception of one play -- things were nearly perfect.

"That was an amazing performance," Ross said. "That was fun to watch."