FIVE COUNTY STADIUM/ZEBULON Back for Game 2 of my new tenure as a 21st Century-style "beat writer" on the Carolina Mudcats, and I almost see my sixth lifetime no-hitter Friday night.
But (yes, after at least two people in the press box utter the exact killer words "no-hitter") West Tenn's Marshall Hubbard, the hero for his team with two homers in a 2-1 win in the series opener on Thursday, breaks it up in the seventh with a two-out single to right center.
Carolina starter Travis Wood's line in the record book is gone after his streak of facing the minimum of 20 batters and retiring 19 straight ends. Still, it's a very good night for Wood (pictured) and the team, as the relievers hold on for a 4-0 victory. Here's the box score, sports fans.
After having the Italian sausage on Thursday night I go with chicken tenders. I had erroneously called them chicken fingers last night. Hello! Chickens don't have fingers. (Kudos to the Mudcats' people for knowing that, and a self-imposed slap on the wrist to me.)
Before the game I ask the radio guys if the teams have any late transactions. West Tenn's Chris Harris, who had to deal with six on Thursday, says "No. Thank God. Thank God!"
It's the club's second "Scout Night" of the year, with the kids parading around the field before the game. (After the game they're going to get to sit on the outfield grass to watch "Alvin and the Chipmunks" on the big board following the traditional Friday fireworks.)
It's partly cloudy and about 90 degrees. Game on.
And Wood is absolutely dealing, as they say. The southpaw from Arkansas, the Cincinnati Reds' second-round pick in 2005, ends up going seven innings with just one hit and one walk. Pitching coach Rigo Beltran's chart has Wood throwing 93 pitches, 64 of them for strikes.
Meanwhile, the Mudcats are getting to West Tenn's Kyle Parker.
Carolina gets a run in the second when Zack Cozart hits a one-out single, steals second and scores when Chris Denove's two-out sinking liner to center just evades Greg Halman's attempt at a sliding basket catch.
And the Cats add another in the third, as Sean Henry draws a leadoff walk and scores on Todd Frazier's one-out single to left center.
Carolina doubles its lead in the sixth as Frazier and Juan Francisco hit back-to-back doubles and, after Cozart singles, Shaun Cumberland picks up the RBI on an error to shortstop Oswaldo Navarro.
West Tenn's only baserunner until Hubbard's safety in is Mel Stocker, who draws an eight-pitch walk to lead off the game and is erased on a 6-4-3 double play.
Carolina's Phillippe Valiquette gets in and out of trouble in the eighth, when he gives up two hits and a walk, and Hubbard's double provides the only baserunner for West Tenn in the ninth.
"He's been doing well all year," Mudcats skipper David Bell said of Wood. "He's keeping the hitters off-balance and changing speeds well. I've really been impressed with his command of his fastball. He's really effective against left-handers and right-handers, and he's really getting better and better."
"My command of my fastball was key," added Wood, whose previous outing in a 2-0 win at Jacksonville was his first career complete game. "I had a good cutter and changeup and was getting ahead of the hitters.
"It was nice out there. It's good to have command of all your pitches."
Carolina right-hander Ruben Medina, who gave up Hubbard's monster homer in the ninth that won the game 2-1 for the Diamond Jaxx on Thursday, has allowed just six homers in 224 career innings pitched.
What does it all mean?
Carolina remains 2 1/2 games behind first-place Huntsville with eight games left in the half.
Three stars of the game
1. Wood. Enough said.
2. Catcher Denove, who called the shutout and was 2-for-2 with an RBI and a sac bunt.
3. Frazier, 2-for-3 with the double and the RBI.
Play of the game
With one out in the fourth, Frazier's diving catch of Greg Holman's sinking liner to left kept the no-hitter alive.
It's tied 1-1.
Carolina: Won 1
West Tenn: Lost 1
West Tenn: none
West Tenn at Carolina, Saturday, 6:15 p.m.
Luis Muñoz (right, 1-2, 4.86) vs. Jordan Smith (right, 4-1, 2.95)