Throw your sombreros to the sky. Fernando Valenzuela, a God of sorts to the people of Mexico, took the field, wound up, and threw out the ceremonial first pitch. The legendary Dodgers’ first pitch was not hit by a batter nor would be a single pitch made by Walker Buehler, Tony Cingrani, Yimi Garcia, or Adam Liberatore. It was history, a no-hitter from Valenzuela to Liberatore, a night no Dodger or Dodger fan will soon forget.
Baseball’s history of rare feats is one that has been forever elusive but so often sought after. In the game’s lengthy antiquity, there had been just 12 combined no-hitters sprinkled amongst the still scarce 297 no-no’s. None of the 12 had been thrown by the Dodgers but on Friday, May fourth, the force was with a Dodgers team that so desperately needed a change of momentum and, it would all start with Walker Buehler.
The young pitcher, one so prized within the Dodgers depth-laden organization took the mound in the pouring rain to make his third career start in the major leagues. The previous two had been successful for the 13th overall prospect in the game but tonight, even while enduring less than optimal conditions, was far better than the rest.
His first inning was excellent. Three up, three down, two strikeouts.
The second: a leadoff walk followed by two more K’s and a fly out to center.
Innings three through six: four more strikeouts totaling eight on the night, three more walks, and like his first two innings, not a single hit.
But, the final out of the sixth inning threw a curveball not at the catcher but at the manager, Dave Roberts. His budding ace, Walker Buehler had just thrown six no-hit innings while hurling 93 pitches. This was a situation he was all too familiar with- he was to pull a pitcher amidst a no-hitter.
This time though was different. There was no grey area as there was perhaps with Rich Hill last year or Ross Stripling the year before. This was black and white. It was about the future.
As responsibility became the right decision for Roberts it became the onus of the bullpen to preserve the excellence displayed by their young teammate.
This was pressure they had not yet seen in 2018 and, quite frankly, it was not pressure anyone thought they were capable of handling after so many blown games and unreliable performances.
First, it was Cingrani. The 28-year old left-handed pitcher had struggled of late. He has dealt with a dead arm, loss of control and his velocity fluctuated from his normal 95 down to 91 and 92 miles per hour. But, as the prospect of history loomed, he did not let the yips consume him.
It was rough around the edges but with caution and finesse, Cingrani pitched his way through the seventh inning. He allowed two walks, a screaming foul ball just past the foul line in left field, and
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The eighth inning brought out Yimi Garcia, the bullpen’s biggest question mark after he just had Tommy John surgery. Garcia, just a few days removed from a shaky outing, came out of the bullpen with his head held high and would walk from the mound with the same confidence. From Garcia: one inning, two strikeouts, and goose eggs.
That put the team just three outs away. Three outs away from perhaps changing the season’s momentum. Three outs from pumping confidence into the veins of the bullpen pitchers, or three outs from sending fireworks to the sky of Monterrey, Mexico.
Adam Liberatore was all that stood in the way.
He worked quickly though, striking out two and nothing else to speak of. Liberatore, who like Garcia, has a past of injury, pitched with vengeance tonight and got the job done. It was history.
Perhaps more than a no-hitter this game was a living representation of the things to come from this team. Its themes ran deep throughout the game: Walker Buehler representing the next man up mentality, Yimi Garcia and Adam Liberatore representing perseverance through struggle, and the man who started it all, Fernando Valenzuela, representing history, and the team’s forever ties to the past.
On this night, just hours after Fernando’s no-hit first pitch, the Dodgers would go on to blank the Padres. A night that will forever remain in history.