WITH the Goldeyes standing firm behind him and his opponents pinned at the plate, Ethan Hollingsworth went hunting for a no-hitter, and landed just two smacks away.
Still, those two hits couldn't take away the thrill of watching Hollingsworth stare down the New Jersey Jackals and hurl a commanding, complete-game shutout.
The pitcher was superb as the Fish marched to a 6-0 win over the Can-Am League visitors Tuesday night, their second win of the three-game series. The teams will go at it again tonight. Meanwhile, the Goldeyes are 55-33 on the season and the magic number to clinch the North Division title is down to just five.
In other words: So what if the no-hitter fell just a little short? "You just try and tell yourself to treat it like the last inning, but the most important thing is winning, obviously," Hollingsworth said, after getting his 27th and final out. "We know we have a pretty big lead now, but we still have to go out and just win."
Well, hot pitching helps. Of the first 19 batters Hollingsworth faced on Tuesday, he walked one, struck out three, and the rest combined for a variety of outs. But in the top of the seventh, Jackals right-fielder Felix Sanchez swung and cracked the ball away and just barely beat the throw to first -- though a split-second after he did, first baseman Josh Mazzola dropped the throw from Brock Bond. Trying to help a pitcher friend out, perhaps?
"I don't know what you're talking about," Mazzola said later, recalling how the ball just hopped out of his glove. Alright, sure thing.
Hollingsworth shook that off then, dealing another three-up, three-down in the top of the eighth. In the final frame, with one out, Jackals catcher Dwight Childs bashed a single down the right-field line. That was it, though. After that, Sanchez landed on the bags on a fielder's choice, then outfielder Alonzo Harris hit into a double-play to finish off the inning, and the game.
The final line for Hollingsworth was nine innings, no runs, two hits, five strikeouts and a walk. It was his seventh win in 12 starts, and his best and deepest game since joining the Goldeyes this season.
"It was kind of one of those games where it just felt like we were rolling," Hollingsworth said. "Defence was playing great, and our hitters put up 15 hits. Their guys were having to work hard, and I was trying to take as much pressure as I could off of our hitters."
Still, the hitters stepped up, as Jackals starter Tom Vessella struggled. By the end of the fourth inning, Hollingsworth had hurled just 46 pitches; New Jersey starter Tom Vessella had thrown 90. The Fish swam all over Vessella, ate him alive. The first two batters who faced him snagged singles; the fourth and fifth did too. In the bottom of the second, Goldeyes right-fielder Ryan Pineda slammed one up and over the left-field fence, a solo homer that lifted the Fish lead to 2-0.
The pitch count rose, Vessella's command wavered. In the top of the third, he handed out back-to-back walks to outfielder Donnie Webb and Mazzola, who was playing first base. The Fish couldn't send one of them home then, as catcher Luis Alen grounded into a double play. But they got a chance to correct that in the next frame when Vessella handed consecutive walks to Pineda and Bond. That time, shortstop Tyler Kuhn would drive an RBI single to send Pineda home.
By the time Vessella came out of the game after six frames, the Fish had jumped him to the tune of 13 hits and six earned runs.
Before the game started, Goldeyes third baseman Jake Blackwood was batting hot, with a .467 average, four homers and six RBI in his last 10 games; he was strong again on Tuesday night, going three-for-five with a run. Outfielder Reggie Abercrombie snagged hits on two of his five at-bats and drove in two runs; Pineda was two-for-two with that homer.
Meanwhile, there were some other bright moments. In the top of the sixth, facing a full count and with two outs in the books, Jackals catcher Dwight Childs popped a foul straight up behind the dish; though Alen looked around quizzically at first, he looked up just in time to haul the ball down with a pratfall dive. The crowd roared in delight, and clapped their hands. It was a happy sort of night.