'The play had to be made': How Abreu saved Blanco's no-no

April 2nd, 2024

HOUSTON -- Failure was not an option for Astros veteran first baseman José Abreu. Certainly not when the ball found his glove in the ninth inning on Monday and definitely not when he decided the only way he could get the ball to first base was to throw from the seat of his pants.

“The play had to be made,” Abreu said. “That was the only thing I was thinking about, and thankfully I was able to do it.”

The harrowing 26th out of ’s remarkable no-hitter was the most tension-filled moment of a memorable Monday night at Minute Maid Park, where Blanco tossed the 17th no-no in club history in a 10-0 win over the Blue Jays. Blanco walked two batters and struck out seven while throwing 105 pitches in his eighth Major League start.

“Every single no-hitter I’ve been a part of, I’ve always gotten that one ground ball in the ninth inning,” Abreu said. “I want to do things the right way, because of the great job Blanco was doing. We don’t have any other choice but to make those plays.”

Facing Cavan Biggio -- the son of Astros legend Craig Biggio -- Blanco got him to pound a first-pitch fastball into the ground and towards first base, where a tumbling Abreu smothered it. A left-handed hitter who can run, Biggio was flying down the line and Abreu had to act quickly.

Abreu sat up with his legs spread out on the dirt and threw to Blanco covering first base to nab Biggio by a step. Not exactly how you draw it up while doing pitchers fielding practice on the back fields in the spring, but it worked. The 37-year-old Abreu pounded his fist into his glove as he rose to his feet.

“I wasn’t worried about it,” Blanco said. “I know that Abreu is a great infielder, but the only thing I asked is for him to catch and the rest is for me to get to the base.”

Abreu was involved in another close play in the eighth, when Blanco tipped a grounder off the bat of Blue Jays catcher Alejandro Kirk. The ball was tipped towards second baseman Mauricio Dubón, who had just entered the game, and he threw out Kirk easily.

“It helped us that the runner was somebody who wasn’t very fast, and thankfully we were able to complete the play,” Abreu said. “But I think in life when something was meant to happen, it was meant to happen.”

Abreu said that, by the fifth inning, he thought Blanco could be headed for a special night, but he stated that catcher Yainer Diaz should get a lot of credit as well. Blanco said he shook off Diaz only twice all game.

“[Diaz] did a great job working with [Blanco], and I think every single time we were out there we were feeling anxious to get the outs to get back to the field to try to complete it,” Abreu said.

The final out, a groundout to second base by Vladimir Guerrero Jr., was rather routine, but no one takes an easy breath in a no-hitter until the umpire signals the final out.