Bakersfield, Calif. — Daniel Torres is covered in shaving cream.
There’s so much of it that the Bakersfield Blaze catcher has done up his hair in a white-tinted mohawk, with a glob on his shoulder and a shaving cream beard covering most of his face.
He’s drenched. Dripping in sweat, water, and maybe a little beer, Torres stands in the Blaze’s clubhouse just minutes after catching the final out of the club’s 3-0 victory over the Modesto Nuts on Friday night. Of course, the shaving cream makes sense in context: Torres just caught a no-hitter, the first in the club’s 75-year history at their home Sam Lynn Ballpark in Bakersfield.
“To have this as part of my career now,” the catcher says, shaking his head, “I’ve never had one before, it’s pretty special. Defense is first for catchers, that’s been my number one goal, to be a good defensive catcher, and then hitting second…”
Torres trails off, grinning ear-to-ear, as a teammate comes up with a cup of beer. The catcher takes it, and toasts the other three men holding beer around him: Osmer Morales, Isaac Sanchez, and Jake Zokan — the three pitchers who, along with Torres behind the plate, combined on the no-hitter.
“All these guys were locating like crazy tonight,” Torres says, unable to wipe the smile off his face. “Every pitch was working, they were mixing speeds perfectly, so I just tried to stay with the same approach every inning.”
“It got a good result.”
If a week ago you had been told the Blaze would toss a no-hitter, Osmer Morales is likely the last pitcher you’d have suspected of being involved. A 23-year-old Venezuelan in his seventh professional season, Morales came into Friday night with just sixteen starts in his entire career — none in Bakersfield, where he’s relieved in 11 games and put up uninspiring numbers as a long man in mop-up situations.
But something was working Friday night, as Morales fanned seven Nuts hitters and allowed just a walk to Modesto catcher Dom Nunez in the fifth inning — the only base runner the visiting club would get all night long.
But after Morales started things the right way for Bakersfield, it was on bullpen to bring it home. By the time Isaac Sanchez entered the game in the top of the sixth inning to relieve Morales, everybody was abundantly aware of what was happening.
“By the fourth inning, I’m like ‘man, we’ve got a no-hitter,'” Sanchez says in the clubhouse after the game. “I was really happy for Morales, being his first start here in Bakersfield. Then that situation where he walked the guy, I’m like ‘ah, the perfect game is blown, but we still have a chance for a no-hitter.’ So when I came in, I had it in the back of my mind.”
Torres, clearly taking it personally to have caught a no-hitter, was nervous for pretty much the entire second half of the game.
“I noticed it in the fifth, after Osmer came out, and then I was aware of it the whole time,” the catcher says, clearly relieved that things worked out how they did. “But in the eighth inning when I was sitting on deck, after we had scored a few runs, that’s all I could think about, trying to keep the no-hitter.”
Sanchez, who has been putting in good work out of Bakersfield’s bullpen all season long with a sub-2.00 ERA, worked quickly through the sixth, and then threw a second shutout, no-hit frame in the top of the seventh, fanning three in his two innings of work. To a certain degree, by the end of it, he was just relieved to get off the field.
“By my second inning it was like all right, the pressure is on me, I’ve got to keep it going,” Sanchez says, smiling. “Thank God I got through that inning, because by then, everybody was like ‘OK, we can’t say nothing about it because if we do, we might jinx it. Something might happen.’
“But by that last pitch in the ninth inning,” Sanchez continues, pausing to shake his head. “That was a good experience right there.”
To get to that last pitch in the ninth inning, Bakersfield called in lefty hurler Jake Zokan, who hadn’t allowed a run in nine relief appearances spanning 15.2 innings entering Friday’s game. Two perfect innings and four strikeouts later — including a whiff of Omar Carrizales to end the game in dramatic fashion — and Zokan sealed the deal for Bakersfield.
To his credit, the lefty seemed to be all business about it, even after the game.
“I just stayed to what I’ve been doing the whole year, just going pitch by pitch,” Zokan says. “I was definitely thinking about it. You see all those zeroes, you know what the guys before you did, so you want to keep the momentum going. But I just tried to stay focused, get the pitch, execute that pitch, and get to the next one.”
As business-like as Zokan was about his job, Sanchez was equally gleeful, clearly grateful to have been a part of a game like this.
“Thank God I came in and did my job, and then Zokan followed in those same footsteps that Morales did,” Sanchez says, flashing a mischievous grin. “It just went off from there.”
With music blaring and the entire clubhouse celebrating after the game, it’d be easy for Torres and those three pitchers to let loose a bit, celebrating a once-in-a-lifetime experience. After all, who could blame them?
But Torres, ever the responsible, driven catcher, wouldn’t quite let himself go off.
“That was a fun game, and we can enjoy it tonight, but we’re back at it tomorrow,” he reasons. “We have to be ready every day. It’s a grind, but we’ve gotta just stay focused.”
He pauses again, still smiling.
“But you know, I may never catch another one. I’m pretty excited about this.”