Blue Wahoos Staff Stifles Lookouts
Blue Wahoos pitching coach Cibney Bello had enough dugout thoughts swirling in his head Saturday to ignore an unspoken element.
Six innings were complete. Three of his pitchers, opener Alex Phillips, then Brusdar Graterol and Jorge Alcala, had so far combined to not allow a hit, or a baserunner.
Yes, a perfect game in progress against the Chattanooga Lookouts.
"We didn't talk about it," Bello said. "I didn't notice to be honest. One reason was having (catcher Willians) Astudillo around me, always moving, always talking, getting everyone going."
Alas, two outs into the seventh inning, the perfect game ended, then the shutout, but a no-hitter was still intact until a leadoff, infield single, in the ninth inning spoiled the remaining intrigue in the Blue Wahoos 5-1 win against the Lookouts.
An overflow, sellout crowd (5,038) Saturday at Blue Wahoos Stadium watched a series-ending sparkle among Pensacola pitchers before post-game fireworks capped the second-to-final homestand of the season.
"I was having a lot of fun watching those guys pound the (strike) zone and the game moving so fast," Bello said.
And now, Graterol (6-0, 1.71 ERA), who earned the win by throwing hitless innings in the fourth and fifth, along with Alcala, who followed with 1.2 innings of perfection, are both moving on.
The Minnesota Twins announced moments after Saturday's game that Graterol, the top-rated pitching prospect in the organization, and Alcala - the only Blue Wahoos player on their active roster the entire season -- were both promoted to Triple-A Rochester (N.Y.) Red Wings.
Both were converted to relievers in recent weeks. Graterol's last three appearances after nine starts were as a reliever. On May 25, he was placed on the injured list and didn't return to the Blue Wahoos until Aug. 7.
Alcala (5-7, 5.97 ERA) made 16 starts before moving to the bullpen.
"Everybody knows the talent those guys have," Bello said. "They were putting people away with secondary pitches (Saturday) and, hopefully, sooner or later, we'll see those guys in the big leagues."
Both could be candidates for that level this season. On Sept. 1, MLB teams can carry up to 40 players on an active roster, the final year that option is in place.
In what became their final appearance in Pensacola, both Graterol and Alcala were wearing throwback jerseys, along with their teammates, in a "Summer of '69" promotion which added into the fun atmosphere of the packed stadium.
The game began with Phillips, a reliever all season, by facing the minimum nine batters in three innings with three strikeouts.
His teammates provided a 3-0 lead in the third inning. Mark Contreras led off with a triple. Royce Lewis reached on an infield single that kept Contreras at third.
Astudillo, playing in his third rehab assignment game as a Twins player, narrowly missed his third homer with the Blue Wahoos with a two-run double off the left field fence padding. Astudillo then showed his deceptive speed by scoring on Alex Kirilloff's two-out single.
Kirilloff, who went 3-for-4 with 3 RBI, followed in the fifth inning with a booming, two-run homer after Astudillo had singled.
"I've been feeling good," said Kirilloff, the Twins' No. 2 overall prospect. "I am just trying to finish strong and be as consistent as I can every day. Especially these last couple weeks."
The Blue Wahoos win moved them 11 games above .500 (67-56 overall, 28-24 second half) and within four games of Southern League division leader Biloxi Shuckers, who had a 10-game win streak end Saturday night in a loss at Mobile.
But the Blue Wahoos are in line for a playoff spot as a wildcard team if the Shuckers hold off Jacksonville (3 games back) in the second half race. The Shuckers won the first half South Division race.
In winning four of five games against the Lookouts in a series featuring the return of former Blue Wahoos manager Pat Kelly, the Blue Wahoos improved their playoff chances.
They have a 6.5 game lead over the Jumbo Shrimp, 8.5 games over the Mississippi Braves, as the qualifying team with the second-best, overall record behind Biloxi.
Three series remain. The Blue Wahoos begin a six-game set with the M-Braves on Sunday with Monday being a doubleheader, as makeup for a rained out game between the teams in Pensacola.
"In pro ball, I have never been in position when we weren't playing for the playoffs, so it definitely keeps you focused down the stretch," said the 21-year-old Kirilloff, who has boosted his average to .276. "We have bunch of new faces. Lot of guys came up from Fort Myers (during second half of season).
"Our bullpen and starters have been clicking together too. You just hope it all comes together when it matters most and we kinda make that last push to sneak into the playoffs. Hopefully we continue to do that for the last 16 games."
After Phillips and Graterol worked the first five innings Saturday without a hit, Alcala continued the perfect game before being lifted with two outs, none on, in the seventh for lefthander Andrew Vasquez.
The night quickly went south for Vasquez, who made nine major league appearances as a reliever last season with the Twins.
He plunked the first Lookouts batter he faced, shortstop Jonathan India, the Reds' No. 3 overall prospect, ending the perfect game.
Vasquez walked the next two batters to load the bases. He then hit Brantley Bell, the son of Pensacola native Jay Bell, long-time, former MLB infielder, to force in a run.
Vasquez got out of the inning, getting his only out when former Blue Wahoos player Calton Daal grounded out.
"There are some days as pitcher when the stuff is there, and there are some days and when you don't have it," Bello said. "Unfortunately, it happened to him (Saturday)."
Tom Hackimer came on in the eighth inning and finished the game with two strong innings, highlighted by four strikeouts. The only hit allowed happened when India led off the ninth inning with an infield single.
"(No hitters) are hard to come by. I wasn't even aware we had one (still) going," Kirilloff said.
For Bello, he's been involved with two no-hitters as coach, both involving the Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Kernels, the Twins' Low-A affiliate.
On the same day, one year apart in 2017 and '18, he was with the Clinton (Iowa) Lumberkings, former Seattle Mariners affiliate, when it happened, then last year as pitching coach with the Kernels.
"It would have been nice (Saturday), but we got the win and that's what matters," Bello said.
The game's sponsor, The Andrews Institute, provided post-game fireworks on the second-to-final Saturday night of the season.
Several Andrews Institute team trainers for local high schools threw out first pitches, along with Dr. Joshua Hackel.
The Bill Bond Baseball 11-under team from Pensacola, which captured the Florida title and participated in the national tournament, was honored before the game. Their players ran out with Blue Wahoos players in pregame introduction.
The East Brent Baptist Church Choir performed the National Anthem.
Blue Wahoos team president Jonathan Griffith conducted the jersey auction for the special-design "Summer of '69" game theme during the seventh inning and members of the Blue Wahoos game-day staff and on-field contest leaders wore attire from that era.
Images from this story
Pensacola Blue Wahoos pitcher Brusdar Graterol
Alex Kirilloff of the Pensacola Blue Wahoos
Pensacola Blue Wahoos pitcher Alex Phillips
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