GARY | Morgan Coombs was an unlikely candidate to throw the first perfect game in the illustrious history of the RailCats.
The rookie starting pitcher was, unbeknownst to him, on the verge of moving out of the rotation until an injury to a teammate precluded that move. He was also facing the hottest team in the American Association on a muggy evening.
The 6-foot-4 right-hander nonetheless dominated road-weary Wichita, retiring the first 17 hitters he faced as the RailCats beat the visiting first-place Wingnuts 6-0 Monday at U.S. Steel Yard.
“I try not to think about stuff like (perfect games) because there are so many other distractions,” Coombs said. “I did want to try to keep my distance away from everyone. Pitchers always sit at the end of the bench, but I started noticing guys treating me differently.”
No. 9 hitter Mike Conroy doubled for Wichita (18-6) to break up the bid for perfection with two outs in the sixth, and two subsequent walks loaded the bases. Then Coombs relied on his good friend, the fly ball, to get out of the jam and maintain the shutout.
Through his efficient, 6 2/3-inning, 86-pitch night, he had 11 fly outs, six groundouts and three strikeouts with just one hit and three walks allowed.
“I’m just trying to nibble,” Coombs said. “I see how far I can go outside the zone. I get guys out of the zone, and they get themselves out.”
Coombs’ gem came at an opportune time as the RailCats (12-12), roughly 1/4 through the season, are now guaranteed a winning mark on their seven-game homestand and back to .500 for the first time since May 25.
Andrew Johnston is still nursing a back injury and will miss at least his next start, which was scheduled for today. Derek Drage was moved to today, keeping Coombs in Monday’s starting slot despite a motion to move him to the ‘pen.
“Needless to say, we’re going to keep him right there,” RailCats manager Greg Tagert said. “I’d be hard-pressed to say I’ve seen a better first five innings than that this year.”
Coombs was up 5-0 through five with RBI hits from Sean Smith, Mike Rohde and Kyle Haines, and sacrifice flies by Craig Maddox and Mike Massaro.
Gary had six stolen bases by six different players on Monday and lead the league with 49. However, the pitching staff has been hurt by defections and injuries in the rotation, which in turn have thinned the bullpen. Monday was a second consecutive quality start that saved the bullpen.
Chuck Lukanen and Nolan Nicholson provided scoreless relief Monday.
“Any time we can give those guys a break, that’s a good thing,” Coombs said.