Tyler Gilbert, acquired by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft only eight months ago, threw a no-hitter in the first start of his major league career on Saturday night.
He did so by blanking a star-studded San Diego Padres lineup while toeing the rubber for a last-place team, writing one of the most improbable sports stories of 2021.
Gilbert, 27, became the fourth pitcher in baseball history to throw a no-hitter in his first big league start. Only two have done that since the start of the 20th century, most recently Bobo Holloman in 1953.
“Amazing,” Gilbert said with a smile after a 7-0 victory from Phoenix’s Chase Field. “It hasn’t hit me too much yet, but it’s really cool.”
Gilbert’s last out came against Tommy Pham, who had previously drawn three walks and stood as the only Padres player to reach base. The first pitch, Gilbert’s 102nd of the night, was a cutter out over the plate that was lined directly into the glove of D-backs center fielder Ketel Marte. It solidified the eighth no-hitter in the majors this season, tying a record that was set in 1884, the first year that overhand pitching was allowed.
Gilbert, a 6-foot-3 left-hander, was a sixth-round pick out of Southern California by the Philadelphia Phillies in 2015. He was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers in February 2020 and was plucked from their organization by the D-backs that December, then posted a 3.44 ERA with 50 strikeouts and 19 walks in 52⅓ Triple-A innings in 2021.
Gilbert didn’t play organized baseball in 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic shut down the minor league season, so Gilbert spent his summer throwing bullpens to an old high school coach and doing electrical work alongside his father in order to make ends meet.
“I’d rather be doing this than pulling wires,” Gilbert said. “No offense, Dad.”
Gilbert’s father was in the stands on Saturday, noticeably emotional as the night progressed. Gilbert’s mother, his girlfriend and her parents also were there.
But the most nervous person in the ballpark might have been Gilbert’s manager, Torey Lovullo, who planned to limit Gilbert to 85 pitches. Midway through the fifth inning, Lovullo began to sense a no-hitter might be possible. After the sixth, D-backs bullpen coach Mike Fetters turned to Lovullo with a message: If you’re thinking about making a hasty decision, remember that this is his first major league start.
“That got my attention,” Lovullo said. “I started looking at things a little bit differently, and that’s when I told myself I’d probably stretch it out beyond 105 pitches.”
Gilbert hadn’t completed more than six innings or thrown more than 93 pitches in the minor leagues this season. After the D-backs called him up to the major leagues on Aug. 3, Gilbert pitched in relief, completing two innings or fewer in three prior appearances out of the bullpen. But Lovullo had conversations about Gilbert’s situation with several people in the dugout as Saturday’s contest got into the later innings, including with members of the team’s medical department. Lovullo found comfort in how calm Gilbert seemed, how his stuff continued to play.
And then it turned in the eighth inning.
Gilbert had already thrown 88 pitches by the time he finished the seventh. In the eighth, he recorded three outs on only three pitches, a feat that had been accomplished only three other times this season. He felt a surprising sense of tranquility as he returned for the ninth.
“It was weird,” Gilbert said. “I wasn’t nervous at all, and I feel like I should’ve been.”
Gilbert struck out Trent Grisham and pinch hitter Ha-Seong Kim, before getting Pham to record the final out, throwing the third no-hitter in D-backs history (not counting the seven-inning no-hitter Madison Bumgarner threw against the Atlanta Braves earlier this season). It came on the 50th anniversary of Bob Gibson’s no-hitter and became the first no-hitter of Gilbert’s professional career.
Gilbert was admittedly nervous heading into the game, but most of the pressure was lifted when the D-backs scored five first-inning runs against Joe Musgrove, who recorded a no-hitter of his own in April.
Gilbert relied heavily on his cutter to offset his two-seam fastball. He recorded only five strikeouts. Ten of the balls hit against him traveled at least 95 mph, one of which was caught up against the fence to begin the top of the eighth. But it was a no-hitter nonetheless — and a much-needed bright spot for a D-backs team with a league-worst 38-80 record.
“I don’t think we’ve had a lot of luck this year,” Lovullo said. “When it comes together in a very special way — whether they had five, 10, 15 balls hit at that pace, we were at the right place at the right time. And made plays. And it equaled a no-hitter.”