Soto replaces ejected Pierzynski in what could have been a rarity
HOUSTON -- If Yu Darvish simply had a no-hitter or perfect game going into the later innings only to lose it just when it was really getting interesting, his outing in Texas' 2-1 win over Houston on Monday could have been chalked up to little more than another "been there, done that" situation at Minute Maid Park.
After all, the Astros' home ballpark was the site of that other time when Darvish was nearly perfect for most of his outing. It was April 2, his first start of the season, and all that stood in the way of him and perfection was a two-out, ninth-inning single by Marwin Gonzalez that passed through Darvish's legs and skidded into the shallowest part of center field.
This time, Darvish was having no problems handling the Astros' lineup, just as before. But there was one glaring difference: If he was going to throw a no-no, he was going to have to do it in halves -- the first half with No. 1 backstop A.J. Pierzynski and the second with backup Geovany Soto.
Pierzynski, unhappy with a couple of close calls by home-plate umpire Ron Kulpa -- one of which resulted in a perfect-game-ending walk to Jonathan Villar -- was ejected in the sixth inning.
"I obviously thought it was a strike, I was upset we walked the guy, I said a bad word and was ejected," Pierzynski said.
"Pierzynski didn't like the pitch that I [called for a ball]. We had words about the [2-2] pitch," Kulpa said. "And then [Darvish] walked [Villar] on the very next pitch and [Pierzynski] continued to argue on the pitch before. And so he got ejected."
That left it up to Soto, who had about 20 seconds to throw on his gear and race to home plate.
None of the parties involved -- Pierzynski, Soto or Darvish -- saw this as an issue. And it would be hard to argue that had Pierzynski been behind the plate during Carlos Corporan's at-bat in the eighth inning, things would have turned out differently. But the question has to be asked -- did the midgame ejection rattle Darvish?
"Not at all," Darvish said. "I think Geo was watching the game and how A.J. was calling it, and the transition went pretty smoothly."
Still, had Darvish finished the no-no, his catchers would have also been a cool side note from a historical perspective. There have been five multiple catcher no-hitters in Major League history, but only two using the same pitcher the entire game: Ken Holtzman in 1969 and Larry Corcoran in 1880.
So it's been a while.
Soto had been chatting with teammates in the dugout when he saw Pierzynski and Kulpa exchanging pleasantries, and he realized at that point he needed to get moving.
"It felt a little weird," Soto said. "In the dugout, we were just talking ... and then it happened. I had to get my stuff, and I was kind of cold turkey out there. But we got it done."
Soto estimated he's about "50-50" in terms of how many times he and Pierzynski have caught Darvish this season (heading into Monday's game, it was Pierzynski 12 times and Soto 10 times), so there were no issues with communication or lack of preparation from that standpoint. And he and Pierzynski work closely together to talk opposing hitters before every game, so that part wasn't going to be a problem.
Pierzynski emphasized that he "wasn't worried about it" when Darvish was forced to pair with another batterymate right in the middle of a no-hit bid.
Still, is it that outlandish to wonder if the interruption could have affected the flow of a game going so well?
"The only thing was [Soto] didn't know how we kind of sequence guys," Pierzynski said. "But Geo watches the game and pays attention. He knows what's going on. He's a professional, and he does a good job."
Soto, sensing Corporan may pounce on the first pitch, called for some breaking stuff before finally deferring to Darvish, who wanted the fastball.
"I called slider, curveball, everything else," Soto said. "Then he shook me off. Then I called fastball. It was his No. 1 pitch. He can locate that pitch. Corporan put a good swing on it, and there went the no-hitter. But that's how it goes. Eight innings, one run ... he had a great outing."
Pierzynski, who has caught two no-hitters and one perfect game in his expansive Major League career, was in the same spot he was back in April: trying to methodically maneuver Darvish through an outing that had the chance to be a pretty special one.
"It got him to the ninth of a perfect game, but unfortunately, Yu can't field his position very well and the ball went right through his legs," Pierzynski joked, referring to the April start. "These situations are fun. I've been through it before. You want to try not to screw them up. He made one mistake to Corporan, he hit a home run and you give a guy credit."
This one wasn't quite so painful -- the perfect game in April was lost on what would have been the very last play of the game -- but still, Pierzynski felt some regret this time, too.
"Absolutely, you feel bad for the guy," he said. "You feel bad for the pitcher and you feel bad for everybody associated with it. Because they don't happen a lot and when you get that close, you really want to try to get them done. Unfortunately, it didn't work out."