Camera phones around Safeco Field were focused on the pitcher’s mound with two outs in the ninth inning, ready to record baseball history Wednesday afternoon. In the Orioles dugout, there were nothing but blank stares. They, too, certainly weren’t going to forget this moment, but in a much different way.
And when Seattle Mariners right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma’s final pitch of the day — a line drive to center field off the bat of right fielder Gerardo Parra — was caught by Austin Jackson, the Orioles were no-hit for the seventh time in the franchise’s 62-year history in their 3-0 loss to the Mariners.
This wasn’t the way to end their nine-game West Coast road trip, with their most futile single-game offensive effort in eight seasons, when Clay Buchholz of the Boston Red Sox no-hit the Orioles on Sept. 1, 2007.
“It’s not just a normal loss,” Orioles center fielder Adam Jones said. “We’re going down in the history books on the bad side of a no-hitter. You tip your cap. Iwakuma threw his game. We hit some balls hard right at guys, they played good defense. You tip your cap and move on. … He threw a lot of strikes. Can’t cry about it.”
The 34-year-old Iwakuma’s no-hitter was the fourth in the majors this season, but the first in the American League in nearly three years, when Seattle teammate Felix Hernandez pitched a perfect game against the Tampa Bay Rays on Aug. 15, 2012. Iwakuma also became the second Japanese-born pitcher to throw a no-hitter. Hideo Nomo tossed two no-hitters in his career, including one against the Orioles on April 4, 2001, as a member of the Boston Red Sox — still the only no-hitter at Camden Yards.
“I think the fifth inning is the longest I’ve ever gone without a hit,” Iwakuma said through interpreter Antony Suzuki. “The ballgame was a tight ballgame, so I was trying to not think about what was going on. I was focusing on each hitter.”
The Orioles (57-56) ended their road trip to Oakland, Anaheim and Seattle with a 4-5 record, losing three of their last four games on the trip, including two of three at Safeco Field against a Mariners team that’s nearly out of the postseason race.
“We ended it with a loss, but we also were very close to having a winning road trip,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “It’s been a challenge through the years for clubs coming out here and we were close to having a really good road trip. A tough one today, but guys know it’s been a challenging nine, 10 days and now we’ve got to go back home and get on another clock. …
“It’s still there for us. We got through the road trip still engaged in the competition and we’ll just have to try to start getting it going together a little more consistently.”
The Orioles, who own an ugly 25-36 road record this season, headed back east looking forward to coming home for a 10-game homestand at Camden Yards and putting Wednesday’s game out of their minds.
“What else we going to do?” Jones said. “We’ve got the A’s on Friday. … We’ve got a long flight, a day off, so there’s going to be a lot of dwelling on it, but we’re professionals, man. Pick up the pieces and on Friday be ready to do something.”
Iwakuma, making his eighth start back from a strained right lat that cost him more than two months, didn’t give the Orioles many pitches to hit. Showalter said he knew Iwakuma would be a tough matchup because of his pinpoint control to all parts of the strike zone and a tantalizing split-finger fastball that drops before it reaches the plate.
“He threw the ball really well,” said Orioles first baseman Chris Davis, who drew one of the three walks Iwakuma issued. “I think as the game went along, he got stronger and stronger. He was obviously moving his split around, elevated his fastball with two strikes. He didn’t back down. I think that was one thing you kept seeing. He got ahead of guys and he wasn’t trying to pitch around everybody. What did he have, three walks? I feel like every one of them was earned.”
Iwakuma threw 20 of 29 first-pitch strikes. The Orioles tried to attack him early in the count with no success. And once Iwakuma got ahead, he used the split to make the Orioles chase. He struck out seven on the day and kept the ball on the ground. The Orioles sent just six balls into the outfield.
“It’s a good one,” Jones said of Iwakuma’s split. “It looks like a strike and it just falls off.”
Iwakuma was so efficient that it took until the end of the seventh inning for the Safeco Field crowd of 25,661 to stir in anticipation. Orioles right-hander Kevin Gausman, who allowed three runs over seven innings, said he didn’t realize Iwakuma was drawing close to a no-hitter until he left the game.
“I didn’t even know because I knew we had guys on base,” Gausman said. “He walked a couple guys. That’s the thing — one swing and we’re right back in the game. You try not to think about that, but yeah, when I came out of the game, that’s when I looked up and I was like, ‘Oh, it’s the eighth inning and we don’t have any hits.’”
Trailing 2-0 in the fourth, the Orioles actually had the tying run on base with two outs after Iwakuma walked Manny Machado and Davis. But he struck out Jimmy Paredes on a 2-2 sinker to end the inning.
Iwakuma cruised from there, retiring 15 of 16 to end the game and facing the minimum number of hitters beginning with the last out of the fourth. Jonathan Schoop drew a leadoff walk in the eighth, but Caleb Joseph hit into a 6-4-3 double play to end the inning.
“He didn’t miss,” Showalter said of Iwakuma. “You could count two or three pitches that he got in the area to say, ‘Gee, we should have done something with that.’ And then as some of the anxiety mounts, you let him take you off the plate completely. That plays in pitchers’ favor when you try to do too much.”
That tension peaked in the top of the ninth, drawing the crowd to its feet for the final three outs. Third baseman Kyle Seager made the defensive play of the game with a running grab over the shoulder on David Lough’s looper into foul ground near the seats.
After Machado grounded out to third for the second out of the inning, the half-capacity crowd was as loud as a playoff game. Parra jumped on a first-pitch fastball, lining it to center, but it hung in the air enough for Jackson to make the catch to end the game and prompt a celebration at the mound.
“To be honest, when he first hit that ball, I thought it was going to drop for a base hit,” Iwakuma said. “Then I thought, ‘Oh-oh.’ But when I saw Jackson show his glove up in the air, I was like, ‘Yes!’”
After the game, Showalter tried to put the game in perspective. Yes, the Orioles were no-hit, but it was one loss in a 162-game season.
“It’s a loss, yeah,” Showalter said. “When a guy hits a 480-foot home run, he doesn’t get two runs for. You get one loss. ... It’s another challenge that teams face. We faced them last year and we won the division. We faced them this year and have overcome some things to stay engaged in the competition. We’ve got good people there. They’ll learn from it, but at the same time, it doesn’t stop.”