Who knows if Drew Smyly would’ve gotten the ball there in time to beat the Dodgers’ David Peralta to first base. Maybe he does, maybe he doesn’t.
Peralta’s dribbler to lead off the top of the eighth on Friday was as in between Smyly and his catcher, Yan Gomes, as it gets. So, it was going to be a tough play regardless.
But it sure is a shame that Smyly didn’t even get a chance to throw over. Peralta was Los Angeles’ 22nd batter of the day. The first 21 had all gone down in order. With just six outs to go, Smyly was flirting with his first no-hitter and first perfect game of his career — as well as the first perfect game in Cubs history.
So, as far as ways to lose a bid for perfection go, not many could feel more deflating than this:
Smyly and Gomes raced for the ball, Smyly got there first, Gomes tried to avoid him and they both ended up on the ground. Neither appeared to have a frustrated look on their faces. Rather, their looks — and the entire moment itself — can best be described by a single word: “Damn.”
“We both wanted to, or at least I did, wanted to just kind of try to dig myself a hole and just hide underneath it,” Gomes said.
“I think we both just looked at each other, like, ‘I can’t believe it ended like that,'” Smyly said. “It’s just a baseball play, you know. It happens. Sometimes you can hit a ball really hard right at somebody, and sometimes you can do that. It is what it is.”
Just like that, Smyly’s chance to etch his name in the record books came to an end. There would be no 18th no-hitter in franchise history. The perfect game drought wouldn’t come to an end.
The two played off the collision as just two teammates trying to get an out. Gomes decided to have a little fun with it, walking into the clubhouse donning a football helmet fitted with both Cubs and Northwestern University logos.
It’s a positive sign that both were still in good spirits postgame. Because regardless of the fact that play caused the 30,381 fans in attendance to give a collective groan and ultimately stopped Smyly from reaching baseball immortality, it shouldn’t take away from what wound up being as dominant a start as Smyly has had in a Cubs uniform in the 13-0 win.
Though it didn’t look like it on Friday, there’s a reason FanGraphs gave the Dodgers a 71.2 percent chance to make the playoffs before the season. They have multi-time All-Stars Mookie Betts, Freddie Freeman, JD Martinez and Max Muncy making up the top of their order. They had 2022 National League Cy Young finalist Julio Urías on the mound.
An offensive explosion from the Cubs neutralized Urías (and chased him from the game after just 3 1/3 innings). That allowed Smyly the room to focus on dicing through the Dodgers’ lineup, which he did for the first 21 batters Los Angeles sent out to face him.
Heading into Friday, the average exit velocity on balls hit off Smyly (84.2 mph) was in the 93rd percentile of Major League Baseball. On Friday, he held the Dodgers to just a 76.7 mph EV on average.
Also heading into Friday, Smyly strikeout rate (19.7 percent) and whiff rate (23.7) sat in the 34th and 39th percentile, respectively. So of course, he went and struck out 10 hitters for just the 12th time in his career and induced 18 whiffs on 48 swings (nine of his 10 punchouts were swinging, too).
All in all, Smyly gave up just one hit and no walks over 7 2/3 scoreless innings. Even more impressive was the fact that Smyly dominated by throwing just a knuckle curveball and sinker.
“Honestly, I don’t feel like my stuff was that good. Just the execution and the pitch mix,” Smyly said. “I think that’s always going to play above everything else. I thought my command was really good, and then just mixing and matching and executing.”
“I thought he executed some fastballs in late, and some of the ones up looked like they had nice run to them, the two seams,” Cubs manager David Ross said. “But the breaking ball I thought was as good as I’ve seen it since he’s been here.”
It wasn’t perfection, but it was a performance that won’t soon be forgotten. And when Ross went out to take the ball, the Wrigley crowd rewarded Smyly’s efforts with a well-deserved ovation.
Smyly acknowledged the crowd postgame, once again stating how much he loves pitching in front of the fans at Wrigley Field. He even said that when Martinez flew out to right field to end the top of the seventh, the crowd was so loud that he couldn’t hear his PitchCom device. So, he and Gomes had to go to some old-school signals instead.
As far as dominance goes, no Cubs pitcher has done it like Smyly did Friday in a long time. The best part about it? He said his pregame bullpen was one of the worst he can remember throwing.
Despite that, he gave Gomes somewhat of a prediction before the game got underway.
“Literally this is what he said: ‘Sometimes, your worst bullpens [turn] out to be your best outings'” Gomes recalled. “I was like, ‘Yeah, yeah sure. Whatever makes you go today.’ And it came out to be one of his best outings.”
One of his best outings, yes. There’s no doubt about that. It was one of those days where, if not for a fluky play, he really did have a shot to go the distance. Unfortunately, no one will ever know for sure what would’ve happened had Gomes and Smyly not collided.
But, if Smyly were to have made it through the eighth inning unscathed, and even if he’d thrown over 100 pitches, would his skipper have let him go back out to finish off perfection?
“Oh yeah, yeah,” Ross said. “I was going to ride him harder than Yan did.”