Bartolo Colon unfazed by near perfection
Boy, that was fun.
Rangers right-hander Bartolo Colon retired the first 21 batters he faced Sunday night and made a bid at his first-career no-hitter and perfect game before walking Carlos Correa to start the eighth.
A batter later, Josh Reddick doubled to the right-field corner to break up the no-hitter. The Astros tied the game at 1-1 with a sacrifice fly to center.
But the Rangers rallied for a 3-1 victory in the 10th to win in extra innings for the second consecutive day at Minute Maid Park. Robinson Chirinos' two-run double in the 10th put Texas ahead. Chirinos, who homered in the third to give Texas a 1-0 lead, drove in all three of the Rangers' runs.
Keone Kela pitched a scoreless ninth and Jake Diekman closed it out in the 10th, getting Jake Marisnick swinging with runners on the corners to end the game.
But Colon, 44, remained the story after his dazzling night against fellow former Cy Young winner Justin Verlander. Colon threw a first-pitch strike to the first 17 Astros he faced and to 20 of 25 batters he faced.
He was ahead 0-2 in the count against 11 of the first 15 batters he faced. He struck out seven.
Chirinos' homer was the only mistake by Verlander, who retired 18 of the first 20 Rangers he faced. He allowed one hit and had 11 strikeouts in eight innings. Neither factored in the decision.
"I had fun watching every pitch. Really, from both sides," Rangers manager Jeff Banister said, including Verlander. "Watching him go to work with just moving the fastball around and changing some speeds; reading the bats very well, and putting the baseball exactly where he wanted to. I think he showed us what execution really is all about."
Colon and Verlander are the first opposing starting pitchers in the live-ball era to combine for 18 or more strikeouts and two or fewer hits allowed, according to stats.com.
It's the second time in Colon's 21-year career that he's pitched seven innings or more and allowed just one hit. He had a complete-game shutout on Sept. 18, 2000 for the Indians against the Yankees. The Yankees' only hit was a one-out Luis Polonia single in the eighth. Colon held the Padres to one hit in seven innings last April while pitching with the Braves.
Colon, who was starting his 530th game, which is tied for 34th all-time, never seemed fazed by the mounting pressure.
"I'm always relaxed when I'm in the dugout; that's the way I am because that's the way I feel good," Colon said. "When I'm relaxed, I can do my job better."
In fact, Colon wasn't too keen when his teammates started to keep their distance in the dugout as part of the unwritten baseball protocal when a pitcher is working on perfection.
"No, I didn't enjoy not having them around me," he said. "I don't like to be separated, isolated from the rest of the guys; because I'm part of the team."
Colon was trying to become 10th oldest pitcher to throw a nine-inning or longer complete game shutout. Colon turns 45 on May 24. The last player older than Colon to take a no-hitter into the eighth or later was Gaylord Perry for the Royals in August 1983. Gaylord was 44 years, 338 days old.
Nolan Ryan, who was 236 days younger than Colon is now, is the oldest pitcher to throw a no-hitter. Ryan was also 44 when he threw his last no-hitter for the Rangers in May 1991.
Colon was replaced by left-hander Alex Claudio with two outs and Reddick at second base in the eighth. Claudio forced Brian McCann to fly out to right.
"It was fun to be behind the plate," Chirinos said. "I think [Colon] only threw four changeups and five sliders. He was throwing his fastball where he wanted to — outside, inside, up, down. It was fun to receive those pitches. His two-seam fastball moves so much. They see it going outside and it comes back to the corner. It tricks hitter's eyes."
The game was already special before either pitcher threw their first pitch. It was the Rangers' first regular-season game to feature two former Cy Young winners since April 12, 1981 when Ferguson Jenkins (1971, Cubs) faced the Yankees' Ron Guidry (1978).
It happened twice in the postseason when Cliff Lee and Tim Lincecum faced off in Games 1 and 5 of the 2010 World Series. Colon won the Cy Young in 2005 with the Angels. Verlander won it in 2011 with the Tigers.
Colon's teammates were thrilled, but not shocked by the performance.
"Absolutely amazing," said Joey Gallo, who singled and scored the go-ahead run in the 10th. "I’m not even surprised, that’s just who he is. I wish we got him a win. He deserved the win."