ST. PETERSBURG -- Carlos Carrasco spun around swiftly and watched helplessly as the baseball sailed over second baseman Jason Kipnis. While Kipnis jumped and stretched in an admirable effort to pluck the ball from the air, it was no use. This single from Tampa Bay's Joey Butler was as clean as they come.
Just like that, with two outs and two strikes on Butler in the ninth inning, Carrasco's no-hitter was gone.
Carrasco did not finish off his bid at history, but the big right-hander came as closer as a pitcher can to a no-hitter in an overpowering 8-1 victory over the Rays on Wednesday. After fellow Cleveland starters Cody Anderson and Danny Salazar flirted with perfect games in the previous two games, Carrasco nearly finished the job in a one-hit, 13-strikeout masterpiece.
As he moved deeper into his outing, the Tropicana Field crowd began to embrace the rival right-hander, too. After he allowed the single to Butler, the local fans let out a collective groan, and then they rose to their feet and gave Carrasco a rousing ovation as he exited the game after 8 2/3 brilliant innings. Carrasco thanked his newfound fans with a tip of his cap.
This marked the third time this season that a team had a no-hitter broken up in the ninth inning. Atlanta's Shelby Miller lost his no-hit bid against Miami with two outs in the final frame on May 17. Following six no-hit innings from righty Trevor Bauer on April 9, Cleveland's bullpen could not complete a combined no-no, falling short with one out in the ninth in Houston.
In Major League history, there have been 40 near no-hitters broken up with one out to go. According to research done by SABR's Stew Thornley, this represented the first Indians no-hit bid snapped at 8 2/3 innings since July 4, 1954, when Minnie Minoso of the White Sox singled off Early Wynn to break up another would-be combined no-hitter.
"I was so nervous," said Salazar, who was perfect for 15 batters before flinching against the Rays on Tuesday. "I wanted him to get it. He almost had it. That's a huge step. Not everybody throws a no-hitter in the big leagues and he was so, so close."
Carrasco had his typically powerful fastball, which topped out at 98 mph and sat around 94-96 mph on average, but it was his breaking pitches that had a particularly strong bite against Tampa Bay. The righty generated 30 swings and misses on the night, setting a career high in strikeouts, while also generating 10 outs via ground balls.
Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway said Carrasco's breaking balls had been sharp in the days leading up to the outing.
"He's been really spinning the ball really well," Callaway said. "In-between in his bullpens and even in his flat-grounds, the spin on his slider and curveball have been pretty good. And that was his main weapon tonight. He had a tremendous slider going and he used it really well."
Alas, it was the slider that came back to bite Carrasco in the ninth inning.
Carrasco opened the final inning with a walk to Rays shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera and then the right-hander hit Brandon Guyer with a pitch. That set the stage for former Indians star Grady Sizemore, who slashed a pitch to the left side of the infield, where shortstop Mike Aviles gloved the ball and quickly fired to Kipnis at second base for a force out.
Kevin Kiermaier followed with a strikeout to set up the matchup between Carrasco and Butler.
In the seventh inning, it was Butler who ended Carrasco's bid for a perfect game by drawing a full-count walk. The Cleveland starter opened their ninth-inning battle with back-to-back sliders, working ahead to an 0-2 count. That is when Carrasco allowed his thoughts to drift to how he might react if he managed to complete the no-hitter.
"I wanted to strike him out," Carrasco said. "I started to think about what I was going to do, if I was going to throw my glove in the air, or something like that."
Carrasco went back to his slider, which hung over the plate just enough to allow Butler to push it into right field for a run-scoring single.
"I was shocked at how nervous I felt," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "It was fun to see how everybody reacted to him and to the circumstances."
As for his own reaction, Carrasco could not explain it.
All Carrasco knew for sure was that he had no complaints.
"Everything was great," he said. "I had my teammates, my defense. You know what? It's most important that we won today. That's most important."