On long road to bigs, Heston comes into his own
Sure, there has been some disappointment along the way. How many overnight success stories are there anyway? Besides, a setback or two probably made a moment like this one even sweeter for Giants rookie right-hander Chris Heston.
Heston's teammates knew it, too. They're aware he has climbed some hills and continued to believe in himself when a lot of others didn't. You could see it in the way they embraced Heston afterward. Actually, they seemed almost as happy for him as he was for himself.
And there at the end after Heston had put the finishing touches on the 17th no-hitter in Giants history in a 5-0 win over the Mets on Tuesday night at Citi Field, his manager, Bruce Bochy, approached him and put a hand on each shoulder and looked him square in the eye and told him how proud he was.
First things first. Beyond whatever back story there was Tuesday night -- and it's a complicated one -- this was fairly straightforward thing that happened.
Heston's 13th start in the big leagues was an absolute clinic. He threw four pitches for strikes. He commanded both sides of the plate. And he threw strikes, one after another.
Heston threw a first-pitch strike to 16 of 29 Mets and had a three-ball count only four times. Just three Mets reached base, all hit batsmen, and one of them was erased by a double play.
Because he does not throw 95 mph, Heston has less margin for error. And because of that, it's occasionally easy to overlook or dismiss him. On Tuesday night, though, he showed the world that pitching is about strike-throwing and movement and location. In that simple way, Heston was brilliant.
• Statcast™: Heston never threatened in no-no
Heston rode a 90-mph sinker the entire night and mixed in an assortment of breaking and offspeed pitches to put other thoughts in the minds of hitters. He got six of his 11 strikeouts on curveballs.
Heston was in trouble just once, that in the fourth inning when he hit back-to-back Mets. But he got Michael Cuddyer to pound one of those sinkers into the ground to get out of the inning.
And in the late innings, Heston was in complete command. In the eighth, he got three straight infield ground balls on sinkers. Heston needed just 14 pitches to finish the ninth. He hit Anthony Recker with a pitch to open the inning but got three Mets to take called third strikes.
When Ruben Tejada took a Heston curveball -- the 110th pitch of the evening -- to end it, the Giants poured from the dugout to embrace their guy and continued a surge in which the defending champs have won 29 of 45 to sprint back into contention in the National League West.
And that final out continued a roller-coaster ride of a career for Heston. The Giants took him in the 12th round of the 2009 Draft. Heston didn't have killer stuff, but because he was 6-foot-3, he was seen as a guy who had a chance to get bigger and stronger.
Heston had been a shortstop and third baseman until his senior year in high school in Palm Bay, Fla., so despite three years at East Carolina University, he was still learning the position.
Three years ago, Heston was the Eastern League Pitcher of the Year. Two years ago, he pitched so poorly that the Giants designated him for assignment.
At the time, Heston didn't tell them that he was pitching through pain. "Not the smartest thing I ever did," Heston said later. And then last season, he pitched well enough at Triple-A to make his Major League debut and come to Spring Training with a chance to make the club.
At the beginning of Spring Training, Giants pitching coach Dave Righetti sat Heston down and essentially said that his time had come. He was 27 years old and he was at the point in his career where he was either going to make it or not.
Heston had added weight over the offseason and had a bit of extra movement on his fastball. He was never going to be a power pitcher, but the added velocity put some snap in his breaking pitches.
When Matt Cain and Jake Peavy went on the disabled list, Heston got the chance he'd been hoping for. In 12 starts, he has been very good at times and not so good at others. In five of his last eight, he allowed at least five runs.
"He's bounced back and been able to put those games behind him and throw the ball well," Bochy said recently. "He's a four-pitch guy. He throws a lot at you. He's been around now. He's bounced back in the Minor Leagues after an injury and was taken off the roster. You have to give him a lot of credit for how he's got his game back."
Bochy has also praised Heston for his quiet demeanor and how he always seems under control. Heston says some of that is watching his teammates -- Tim Hudson, Peavy, Madison Bumgarner -- and seeing how they handle things and learn from one another.
Whenever Heston has seemed to be reaching a point of no return, he has stepped up and pitched another nice game. The Giants will have decisions to make when Cain and Peavy return, but this was one of those nights in which Heston showed that he at least belongs in the conversation.