SEATTLE -- Nearing the non-waiver Trade Deadline, Mariners fans thought Hisashi Iwakuma might be history, a trade chip with a soon-to-expire contract that could have been used to acquire prospects.
Instead, the Mariners held on to the 34-year-old, and he made history. On Wednesday, they were rewarded with the fifth no-hitter in franchise history and the third ever by a Japanese pitcher (Hideo Nomo threw two) in a 3-0 victory over the Orioles at Safeco Field.
It was a moment that hardly could have been imaginable early in the season, when Iwakuma struggled in his first three starts before being placed on the disabled list with a strained right latissimus dorsi muscle. Even after his return in early July, he struggled in his first start, allowing five runs on eight hits in a loss to the Tigers before starting to find his form.
"I missed a lot of time in the first half, two and a half months that I couldn't help my team at all," Iwakuma said through interpreter Antony Suzuki. "That's all I have in mind, come back and give it all I've got. Every start I have, make up for the lost time that I've had the first half and do everything to contribute for the team."
When asked about the possibility of the Mariners trading Iwakuma away at the Trade Deadline on July 31, Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon said he doesn't discuss trades publicly. But he made it pretty clear how he felt about having Iwakuma on his team.
"I would've been going with him," McClendon said with a laugh.
Even with a return to form and strong starts each of his last two times out, McClendon said Iwakuma wasn't the guy in his rotation he expected to throw a no-hitter. Taijuan Walker and Mike Montgomery have thrown one-hitters this season and Felix Hernandez has the only perfect game in franchise history, but no-hitters are harder to come by for finesse pitchers like Iwakuma.
Iwakuma said he doesn't remember carrying a no-hitter beyond the fifth inning of any game and that his 116-pitch, seven-strikeout performance came as a surprise.
"To be honest with you, I never thought that I would accomplish this no-hitter. A lot of that goes to my teammates who played great defense today," Iwakuma said. "My family that was there today, I felt strong with them being around. I felt the fans a lot toward the end especially. It means a lot to me accomplishing this in a Seattle Mariners uniform."
Iwakuma accomplished the feat thanks in large part to a devastating splitter that catcher Jesus Sucre said he called more and more as the game went along. Iwakuma issued two walks in the fourth, but he retired 14 of the final 15 hitters he faced
"I thought in the fifth inning, his stuff was really sharp, his split was coming out very crisp," McClendon said. "You never know, but I said, 'He may have a shot here.'"
Iwakuma said he thought the no-hitter might be in jeopardy when the ball came off Gerardo Parra's bat with two outs in the ninth and started to break toward the left-center gap. Instead, Austin Jackson closed his glove on the final out and the historic moment was preserved.
"I was like, 'Uh-oh.' Right when I saw Jackson show his glove in the air, I was like, 'Yes,'" Iwakuma said. "I can't find the words to express my feelings. I'm just truly happy."