One stinkin’ hit.
Seattle Mariners batter Kyle Seager’s leadoff single to left field in the fifth inning spoiled Indians starter Josh Tomlin’s no-hitter last Saturday.
It’s often human nature for pitchers who’ve come oh-so-close to throwing an elusive no-hitter to mull over the one hit that spoiled one of baseball’s more celebrated feats. Yet, Tomlin didn’t bother wasting time pondering “what if?”
“Doesn’t bother me,” he said with a shrug after his dominating victory. “We won, right?”
Indeed they did, as the Indians cruised to a 5-0 victory over the Mariners in the highlight of an eventful 4-4, three-city, Western road trip.
“I knew I felt good and was commanding the ball to both sides of the plate,” said Tomlin, 29. “I was on the same page as [catcher Yan Gomes] from the get-go. And the way the defense was playing, it turned out to be a good night.”
While others might not admit allowing a lone hit to bother them, few truly mean it. Perhaps that’s why the understated Tomlin (5-5, 3.78) is so well-liked among the Tribe’s front office members, by his manager and the coaching staff, as well as by his teammates — pitchers and position players alike.
“He’s an easy guy to pull for,” Indians General Manager Chris Antonetti said Wednesday before the team took Thursday off in preparation for a 10-game homestand that begins tonight — with Tomlin on the mound for the first game of the weekend series against the Kansas City Royals at Progressive Field.
“[Tomlin’s] the consummate teammate. ‘I’m supposed to pitch tomorrow, but you need me in the pen tonight? I’m there.’ ‘You need me to pinch-run? I’m there.’ ‘You need me to pinch-hit? I’m there.’ Josh has that mindset. Whatever [he] can do to help the team, that’s what he cares about — even if sometimes it’s not in his own [best] interest. That’s an easy guy to respect.”
In flirting with the no-hitter just a start after giving up eight runs (five earned) against the visiting Detroit Tigers, Tomlin rebounded to strike out a career-high 11 batters and did not issue a walk, throwing 111 pitches in the most memorable performance of his five-year major-league career. It was just his second complete game and marked the Tribe’s first one-hitter since Billy Traber did it in dominating the New York Yankees on July 8, 2003.
“For [Tomlin] to have an outing like [that], it’s not only a pick-me-up for him, but for the entire team because of how much guys respect him,” Antonetti said. “There were a lot of guys giving Michael Brantley a hard time in jest [for not catching the only hit of the game].”
Even after Seager’s single erased the no-hit bid and the possibility of Tomlin making history, the 6-foot-1, 190-pound pitcher remained focused and continued to keep the Mariners off balance.
“He was unbelievable in that game,” Gomes said. “Whenever we needed to go in, he was going in. [When we needed to go out], he did. It was fun to see. Then the next day, [Seattle ace Felix Hernandez] did it. [But] it’s kind of like Tomlin had an even better outing.”
Obviously, Gomes’ opinion is a bit biased. Even Tomlin would admit that “King Felix” — as Seattle’s Venezuelan right-hander is so royally dubbed — is in a different stratosphere than the Indians’ “Little Cowboy” of Texas.
Hernandez, who pitched a perfect game in 2012, was just named the American League Pitcher of the Month on Wednesday. In six June starts, he went 3-1 with a 1.22 ERA and 54 strikeouts.
Tomlin, a 19th-round pick by the Tribe in the 2006 draft, doesn’t own the dominating repertoire of Hernandez, and is more of a thinking-man’s pitcher. He and the catcher work to set batters up by keeping them off balance and guessing. In addition to executing his pitches, Tomlin needs pinpoint control to pitch well. A big part of what worked so well against the Mariners was his ability to expand strike zone with near-perfect control.
“You don’t want to get guys leaning one way,” Gomes said. “[Tomlin] mainly pitched on the outer half. Then whenever you could tell some people were coming out there, we’d go back in and get ’em back in line. He did an unbelievable job, especially with that lineup which has been swinging good and with a guy like [Robinson] Cano and some of their middle guys. It’s not the matchup you’d want, but he did an unbelievable job.”
Another key that has aided Tomlin since he joined the Indians starting rotation in May is added flexibility following Tommy John surgery in 2012.
“In some respects, [yes],” Antonetti said when asked whether Tomlin is a better pitcher now than he was before the elbow replacement surgery. “Josh will tell you [that] because he doesn’t feel anything in the elbow and that allows him to get better extension on his pitches. He [also] feels he’s got a little bit better bite to his curve ball.”
Armed with such humility and dedication to hard work, it’s easy to see so many of Tomlin’s teammates were thrilled to see him make it up to Cleveland from Triple-A Columbus after being passed over for one of the open starter’s spots coming out of spring training.
“There may not be a player in the organization that everybody pulls for more than Josh Tomlin,” Antonetti said. “For what he’s been through, the teammate that he is and the professional that he is. Everybody really respects him and pulls for him.”
Marla Ridenour contributed to this report. Stephanie Storm can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Indians blog at www.ohio.com/indians. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/SStormABJ.