The right-hander novice Triston McKenzie he came within four outs of perfection Sunday afternoon for Cleveland. I had retired the first 23 Detroit Tigers that he faced while plunging into personally unknown waters in the Comerica Park.
McKenzie had never completed more than seven innings in a game. He had never thrown more than 93 pitches in one start. Yet there he was, looking the story in the eye with two outs in the eighth inning:
However, Tigers shortstop Harold Castro had something to say about it. He singled to right field to end the Ohio Tribe’s search for the first perfect game since Len Barker beat the Blue Jays, 3-0, in Cleveland on May 15, 1981.
McKenzie, 24, of Brooklyn, New York, struck out Willi Castro before coming off the mound in the eighth, showing little emotion. Then his teammate Ernie Clement told him on the bench that it was on this exact date in 2012 that the Mariners’ Felix Hernandez pitched the perfect 23rd and most recent in MLB history.
As he remembered it again at the post-game Zoom lecture, McKenzie smiled, threw his head back, and groaned in frustration. He ended up throwing 106 pitches (73 strikes) while striking out 11 (all with third strikes blown out) in the 11-0 slate victory.
McKenzie said the only word to sum up the outing was “comfortable” and that he “felt strong all the time.” He added that he was ready to face the Tigers in the ninth inning, but instead closer Emmanuel Clase pitched a ninth 1-2-3 to preserve the one-hit shutout. That move was easy for DeMarlo Hale, Cleveland’s acting manager, to make.
McKenzie entered the game with a 3-6 record with a 4.92 ERA during his two seasons with Cleveland, and he had given no indication of throwing such a gem: He was 1-5 with a 5.66 ERA in 2021 before his departure nearly perfect. But he had been pitching deeper in games and more effectively in recent starts, and he stood out big for the Indians Sunday afternoon.
It may interest you: MLB Cleveland loses super prospect all year to shoulder surgery
In three of McKenzie’s four previous starts, he went at least six innings and allowed no more than three earned runs.