SEATTLE: At first glance, Josh Tomlin doesn’t personify pitching brilliance.
The Indians’ diminutive right-hander doesn’t throw blazing stuff, relying instead on his curveball, changeup and cutter to keep hitters off-balance. He’d tossed only one complete game in his career – that coming in 2010 before he underwent elbow reconstruction.
He didn’t make the team out of spring training, sent to Triple-A Columbus because Carlos Carrasco was out of options. Going into Saturday night's game against the Seattle Mariners at Safeco Field, he’d lost three consecutive starts.
But Tomlin flirted with history in the Indians’ 5-0 victory, throwing a complete-game one-hitter that left him in exclusive company.
Tomlin (5-5, 3.78) did not walk a batter and struck out a career-high 11. He joined Len Barker as the only Indians pitchers to throw a shutout, strike out at least 11, allow one hit or less and walk none. Barker accomplished the feat in his perfect game against the Toronto Blue Jays on May 15, 1981.
According to baseball-reference.com, it was the 21st time a major league pitcher has checked all the aforementioned boxes since at least 1914. The only other man to do it in the major leagues this year was the Los Angeles’ Dodgers Clayton Kershaw, that when the two-time National League Cy Young winner tossed a no-hitter against the Colorado Rockies earlier this month.
“That’s not right. That can’t be right,” Tomlin said of the comparison with Kershaw.
Facing a lineup that included eight left-handed batters, Tomlin threw a perfect game through four innings. Third baseman Kyle Seager led off the fifth with a single to left field, connecting on a fastball away to spoil Tomlin’s no-hit bid. Seager went to second on a wild pitch and to third on catcher Yan Gomes’ throwing error. But Tomlin induced Logan Morrison to fly out and struck out Mike Zunino and Michael Sanders.
“I was finally back to commanding the ball the way I used to,” Tomlin said. “Good things happen in a ballpark like this, especially.
“I knew I felt good and I knew I was commanding both sides of the plate. I was on the same page as Yan from the get-go and the way the defense was playing, it was turning out to be a good night, it seemed like.”
Tomlin struck out the side in the eighth and fanned six of eight batters he faced in a stretch that started with one out in the sixth. Tomlin improved to 4-1 with a 3.41 ERA against the Mariners in five career starts, 3-0 with a 2.12 ERA in four outings at Safeco Field. He threw 111 pitches, 77 for strikes.
“It was a clinic on how to pitch,” Indians general manager Chris Antonetti said.
“He had his A-game on,” Indians center fielder Michael Bourn said. “He was on both corners, curveball working, changeup working, cutter working, fastball spotting it up. That’s the best I’ve seen him since I’ve been here. He was the MVP of the night.”
Indians manager Terry Francona called Tomlin’s performance “tremendous.”
“That’s a lineup that came in feeling really good about themselves,” Francona said. “I think an extra day of rest helped him. He showed in enough and commanded tremendously away with his cutter and his curveball. He took the sting out. They hit a few balls pretty good to the bigger part of the ballpark.”
The best-hit ball wasn’t Seager’s single, but his fly to right field that Ryan Raburn ran down and dove to catch to start the second inning.
“That’s a great play. He read that ball off the bat pretty well,” Tomlin said of Raburn. “It took a dead sprint and a diving catch to get that ball and that’s exactly what he did.”
Bourn was impressed by Raburn’s play as well.
“He laid all-out for it and gave it all he had,” Bourn said. “I had to go give him some while we were still playing because that was an amazing catch.”
But it was Tomlin who deserved the most praise, no matter how unexpected his effort.
“That’s an unbelievable performance. That doesn’t happen all the time,” Bourn said. “When something like that happens, you’ve got to tip your cap to him.”