No hits, 1 big hug: Higgy 'unreal' behind plate

Kluber praises Yanks catcher's preparation, game-calling

May 20th, 2021

watched as the final out of his no-hitter was tossed across the infield dirt, raising his arms in triumph. At the center of what was about to become an exuberant celebration on Wednesday at Globe Life Field, the Yankees right-hander’s mission was to hug .

As Kluber put the finishing touches on the first Yankees no-hitter since 1999, a 2-0 victory over the Rangers that marked the club’s first road no-no since 1951, Higashioka was in charge of guiding the two-time Cy Young Award winner toward an achievement that instantly resides on par with any in his career.

“He was unreal back there,” Kluber said of Higashioka. “The way that he goes about calling the game, the way we see things -- it kind of makes sense to each other. He was on it. He just had a really good feel of what they were trying to do and called a great game.”

Higashioka usually exhibits a blend of detached confidence and California cool, but as Kluber’s bid inched deeper into the Texas evening, the 31-year-old described increasing levels of anxiety. Higashioka described having nearly hyperventilated on the bench between innings eight and nine.

Then, squatting behind home plate, Higashioka flashed his digits for an 0-1 cutter to Willie Calhoun. The ball was chopped to shortstop Gleyber Torres, who tossed on to first baseman Luke Voit, and Higashioka could exhale. A few joyous seconds passed before Higashioka thudded into Kluber’s chest, embraced and hoisted off the infield turf by the 6-foot-4, 215-pound hurler.

“It was almost like what you would imagine the feeling is after winning the World Series,” Higashioka said. “It was this crazy, euphoric feeling. I mean, he lifted me off the ground pretty hard. I could tell he was pumped.”

With Higashioka steering pitch selection, Kluber leaned heavily upon his curveball, snapping off 31 hooks. In Higashioka’s opinion, the curve was Kluber’s best of the year, but Higashioka discovered early in Wednesday’s gem that he couldn’t make a wrong choice.

“Tonight was one of those nights where it seemed like he was just dotting me up every single time he threw the ball,” Higashioka said. “If he missed, it was in a good spot where he wasn't going to get hurt. He definitely had A-plus stuff.”

No wonder, then, that manager Aaron Boone claimed to have been thinking about a no-hitter in the first inning – even mentioning it to bench coach Carlos Mendoza. Higashioka wasn’t quite there, but he recognized that Kluber was spotting his cutter, changeup and sinker with aplomb. Charlie Culberson’s third-inning, four-pitch walk was the only blemish that kept Kluber from perfection.

“When somebody is throwing a no-hitter or perfect game, you're almost at a loss for words,” Higashioka said. “It's just like, ‘Keep doing what you're doing.’ The only thing I was really telling him was, 'Let's just keep being aggressive in the zone attacking these guys.' It’s what he was doing all night, and it was awesome.”

Once they returned to the visiting clubhouse at Globe Life Field, Kluber and Higashioka were toasted, their teammates emptying bottles of domestic beer over their heads. The batterymates beamed, seated in laundry carts as they received icy showers.

“It’ll go down as a no-hitter in my name, but obviously it takes an entire team to accomplish something like that,” Kluber said.

Like David Cone/Joe Girardi, David Wells/Jorge Posada and every other battery that touched history, Kluber and Higashioka are now forever linked in franchise lore.

One of the longest-tenured players in the organization, Higashioka once caught a no-hitter in Class A ball, and another in Double-A. “I spent a long time in the Minors,” he remarked -- but Kluber’s gem resides on a completely different plane.

“This,” Higashioka said, “was definitely more memorable.”