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Rockies teammates watched nervously, worked hard as Freeland chased historic no-hitter

July 9, 2017 Updated: July 10, 2017 at 12:03 pm
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Colorado Rockies manager Bud Black, left, takes the ball from starting pitcher Kyle Freeland, right, as he is pulled from the mound after his no-hit bid was spoiled by a single off the bat of Chicago White Sox' Melky Cabrera in the ninth inning of a baseball game, Sunday, July 9, 2017, in Denver. The Rockies won 10-0. Rockies catcher Ryan Hanigan, center, looks on. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Jordan Lyles was up and down in the bullpen throughout the eighth and ninth innings for the Rockies in Sunday's game, preparing for a game he didn't want to enter.

After all, Kyle Freeland was no-hitting the White Sox, and if Lyles were called to action, that would mean the no-hitter - a feat accomplished just 296 times in baseball's 140-year history - would be ruined. The bullpen wasn't talking about that, though. Nobody was. That would jinx Freeland.

"It's just not talked about," Lyles, the right-handed reliever, said.

"In the seventh inning ... they got up (Chris) Rusin, next inning it was me. After that, it's just a discussion of who we think is going to get up during the ninth. It was probably going to be me, but it's not discussed. The no-no is not discussed."

It's a workmanlike attitude, and it permeated the entire team. Even when incredible, out-of-the-ordinary plays were made, the players not named Freeland acted like it was just part of their job. This was Freeland's moment, and they were doing everything they could to keep it going as long as possible.

In the top of the eighth inning, left fielder Gerardo Parra laid out to snag a looping fly ball just before it hit the outfield grass. He pointed at Freeland, but that was it. It was a tempered reaction for a play that sent the crowd into hysterics.

Ryan Hanigan, the catcher who's been a part of two no-hitters before, took multiple mound visits to try and calm the 24-year old pitcher down. He was cautious around Freeland.

When Freeland's pitch count began to rise higher and higher, Hanigan waited for Freeland to leave the dugout and get out of earshot before discussing strategy with manager Bud Black.

In the bottom of the seventh inning, Freeland, while batting, hit a ball down the left-field line that just went foul. He ran all the way to first base, ready for the possibility the ball would stay fair. When it landed on the wrong side of the white chalk, he walked slowly back to home plate. Center fielder Charlie Blackmon, waiting on deck, picked up Freeland's bat and handed it to the pitcher. It would have been a perfect opportunity to give Freeland encouragement or joke about the pitcher's hitting ability. But Blackmon didn't say anything. Everybody knew what was happening, and nobody said a word about it.

"I try not to do anything that would make him think something he wasn't already thinking," Blackmon said. "So maybe a 'Here you go,' 'Nice job,' maybe a butt smack. That's pretty much it."

While his teammates remained reserved, Freeland made up for it in a big way. He put his fists in the air when Parra made his incredible catch. He flexed his muscles and yelled when he struck out Willy Garcia to end the eighth inning. While jogging out to begin the ninth inning, he hopped over the first-base line while his hometown crowd roared around him.

It was appropriate. This was the Kyle Freeland show.

"When I walked out of the dugout and the crowd gave that big roar when they saw me, it was great," Freeland said. "I mean, going through that, it was kind of a blackout moment.

"But it was a ton of fun to be able to battle out there."

And when Melky Cabrera spoiled the party with one out in the ninth inning, with Freeland having thrown a career-high 126 pitches, Black came to take his young pitcher out.

The crowd went nuts for the Denver native.

But when they settled down, it was Lyles' job to finish the game. And just as Parra and Hanigan and the rest of the team had done all day, Lyles did his job.

They're the kind of jobs that, save for Parra's catch, may be forgotten when people think back on this game in a few weeks or months or years. It was Kyle Freeland's game, and rightfully so. It just wasn't until after the game they felt they could say it.

"Everyone was congratulating him (after the game)," Lyles said. "He was just taking it in. No words needed to be said, but all of us were congratulating him."

When people look back on this game, they'll remember Kyle Freeland's heroic effort. They'll lament on how close he came to reaching a milestone. They may not remember Parra and Hanigan and Lyles' efforts. But that's probably just the way the Rockies would want it.

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