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Eovaldi takes perfect game into 7th in stellar W

Special to MLB.com

NEW YORK -- It was just one pitch, among the 79 Nathan Eovaldi threw Sunday afternoon at Citi Field. Just one pitch, a backdoor cutter to Brandon Nimmo that was supposed to hit the outside corner but instead caught far too much of the plate.

It didn't cost the Rays a game. They were already well ahead, and they went on to beat the Mets, 9-0.

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NEW YORK -- It was just one pitch, among the 79 Nathan Eovaldi threw Sunday afternoon at Citi Field. Just one pitch, a backdoor cutter to Brandon Nimmo that was supposed to hit the outside corner but instead caught far too much of the plate.

It didn't cost the Rays a game. They were already well ahead, and they went on to beat the Mets, 9-0.

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It didn't cost Eovaldi a win or even the satisfaction of making another outstanding start in his comeback from a second Tommy John surgery. The box score shows he threw seven shutout innings, with no walks, nine strikeouts and just one hit, and lowered his ERA to 3.35.

But that one hit came on that backdoor cutter to Nimmo, and it didn't come until the seventh inning. It came after Eovaldi had retired the first 18 Mets in order, deep enough into the game that his catcher was convinced he would be part of baseball history.

Video: TB@NYM: Eovaldi K's 9 over 7 shutout, drives in a run

There have only been 23 perfect games in baseball history. For quite a while Sunday, Jesus Sucre was sure he was catching the 24th.

"I thought we had a perfect game for sure," Sucre said. "His cutter was really good. His fastball was so sharp. They didn't have a chance."

For six innings and 70 pitches, that was basically true. The Mets seemed to have no chance. Eovaldi went to a 3-0 count just once, and the only thing even close to a hit was pinch-hitter Kevin Kaczmarski's looper to left field with two outs in the third inning. Joey Wendle slid to make a nice catch, and Sucre was even more convinced.

Video: TB@NYM: Wendle covers 84 feet to make a diving catch

"After Wendle made that play in left field, I thought, 'We've got something here,'" Sucre said.

By the third inning, Eovaldi said he too was aware he had a chance to do something special.

"I was able to locate my fastball well, and my cutter was really good," Eovaldi said. "I was feeling good."

Eovaldi had a big lead from the start, with C.J. Cron hitting a three-run home run in the first inning and Rays adding on more runs. Eventually Jake Bauers and Wendle would match Cron with homers that reached Citi Field's second deck.

Video: TB@NYM: Bauers jacks solo homer into 2nd deck in 6th

By the seventh inning, Tampa Bay led by seven and the entire focus was on Eovaldi and his attempt to make history. Unlike in his May 30 season debut in Oakland, when he threw six no-hit innings but was pulled because of a pitch limit, he was under no restrictions that would force him out of this one.

Eovaldi just had to keep getting outs, which he did until Nimmo led off the seventh.

The first pitch to Nimmo was a 95.7 mph fastball, and the Mets' center fielder fouled it off. The second pitch was that cutter, the one that had Sucre cringing even before Nimmo lined it into right field.

"I saw that ball coming in and I said, 'No way,'" Sucre said.

Eovaldi insists his reaction wasn't as strong.

"I missed [location] and it got in his swing path," Eovaldi said. "I was a little frustrated with myself because I missed my location. That was on me."

Video: TB@NYM: Eovaldi keeps perfect game intact through 6th

But Eovaldi recovered quickly, striking out Wilmer Flores for the second out and getting Asdrubal Cabrera to ground into a double play. He ended up facing the minimum 21 batters through seven innings, but with the Rays holding a big lead and a perfect game no longer in play, manager Kevin Cash chose to go to the bullpen.

"We came out of Spring Training saying any opportunity to limit his workload, we would take it," Cash said. "He definitely could have gone more."

As it was, Eovaldi became the first pitcher in Rays history to carry a no-hitter through six innings twice in the same season. Three times in eight starts, he has pitched at least six innings while allowing no more than one hit.

It's already been an impressive season for a pitcher who missed all of 2017. Sunday's start only added to that.

But because of one backdoor cutter to Nimmo, Eovaldi wasn't perfect.

"It's super hard to accomplish," Eovaldi said. "Even a no-hitter"

On this day, though, it looked for a long while like he might get it.

SOUND SMART
Eovaldi became the third pitcher in Rays history to come within nine outs of throwing a perfect game. Chris Archer came the closest, retiring the first 19 batters July 29, 2015, against the Tigers before Jose Iglesias' infield single. Matt Garza (April 30, 2009 vs. Boston) also retired the first 18 before allowing a Jacoby Ellsbury infield single.

YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Cron's home run was measured by Statcast™ at 439 feet, with an exit velocity of 113.5 mph. That's the hardest-hit Rays home run this season, and the second hardest hit since Statcast™ began in 2015. The only one harder: Steven Souza Jr.'s against the Brewers on Aug. 6 last year at Tropicana Field.

Video: TB@NYM: Cron's smashes a 113.5-mph, 439-foot homer

UP NEXT
Archer (3-4, 4.24 ERA) is coming back after just one rehab start, so the Rays only expect him to throw about 70 pitches in Monday's series opener with the Tigers at Tropicana Field. Left-hander Francisco Liriano starts for Detroit, with first pitch set for 7:10 p.m. ET.

Danny Knobler is a contributor to MLB.com based in New York.

Tampa Bay Rays, Nathan Eovaldi