Chad Bettis came within three outs of pitching a shutout in a win last Sunday. On Friday, he came within five outs of throwing a no-hitter.
The best performance of his career to date became the second-best just five days after it happened. Even more remarkable than having a no-hitter through 7⅓ tonight was the fact that Bettis had a perfect game going through six innings, retiring the first 18 batters he faced and setting a new franchise record in the process. No Rockie in history has ever come closer to perfection than he did tonight.
The play that ended the perfecto bid wasn't even his fault; Troy Tulowitzki let a relatively routine ground ball off the bat of Ben Revere go under his glove for an error to lead off the seventh. Tulo's error is somewhat forgivable on a night where he got four hits in as many plate appearances, but had Bettis completed the no-hitter, it would have been viewed as a much larger mistake.
The Phillies' first actual hit didn't come until one out in the eighth, and that wasn't Chad's fault either. With an infield shift on, left-handed hitter Cody Asche hit what would have been a routine ground ball to short, except for the fact that there was no one there to field it. Two batters later, Carlos Ruiz hit a soft fly ball that dropped in shallow right field for the Phillies' second hit, advancing Asche to third base. Just like in his last start, Weiss went out to the mound to talk to Bettis and decided to leave him in. Unlike last time, Bettis got out of the jam, striking out pinch-hitter Darin Ruf on a checked swing to end his night without allowing a run.
The Rockies were almost as ineffective against Philly starter Cole Hamels, who also worked eight outstanding innings, striking out nine while allowing only four hits and walking one. Three of those hits belonged to Tulowitzki, who emphatically snapped out of his slump and doubled his home run total in one night with solo shots in the first and third innings.
#2lo pic.twitter.com/T27n2kVLtw— MLB GIFS (@MLBGIFs) May 30, 2015
Tulo wound up doing something he hasn't done in a very long time.
Troy Tulowitzki singles in the 9th and is 4-for-4. First 4-hit game since June 5, 2013.— Rockies Gameday (@COLGameday) May 30, 2015
It's probably not a coincidence that this performance came after Tulowitzki took batting practice by himself yesterday during the team's day off. It's probably also not a coincidence that it comes on the same day as a Purple Row article was published that detailed just how subpar he's been this year. Seeing Tulo finally hit like himself is almost as welcome a sign as the Rockies getting a starting pitcher to rack up a game score of 85. Almost.
Ben Paulsen continued to destroy baseballs tonight, muscling a two-run shot to the opposite field to increase the Rockies' lead to 4-0 in the top of the ninth inning. John Axford gave up just his second run of the season in the bottom of the ninth, and it wasn't even earned. Brandon Barnes mistimed his jump on a deep Chase Utley fly ball that allowed Ben Revere -- who had reached on a wild pitch -- to score, denying the Rockies the shutout.
It's amazing just how many things have to go right in order for a no-hitter -- not to mention a perfect game -- to be accomplished. The Rockies got stellar, hit-saving catches from Barnes (twice) and Charlie Blackmon, only to find two balls that weren't hit nearly as hard going for hits.
Because every no-hit bid needs a little help. pic.twitter.com/rtYpv4rcqM— MLB GIFS (@MLBGIFs) May 30, 2015
Baseball is a very confusing game, but Bettis made it look downright simple tonight. He did not allow a walk in eight innings, and has walked just two batters in his last three starts (an impressive 22⅓ combined innings pitched). Walks have been the biggest problem the Rockies' staff has faced this season, and it's nothing short of thrilling to see a pitcher who's simultaneously pounding the strike zone, getting good length out of his starts, and mowing hitters down.
Bettis on Friday struck out seven batters for the second start in a row, after striking out five in his second start of the season. For those of you keeping track at home that's 19 strikeouts and two walks over 22⅓ innings pitched. It's only three games, but it's just about the most promising three game stretch at the major league level that we've seen from a Rockies pitcher in recent memory.
The fact that it's come almost completely out of nowhere makes it even more incredible. Bettis was a mediocre starter during the tail end of the 2013 season, before turning into a bad reliever in 2014. His reemergence as a bona fide starter could be huge for the rotation if the Rockies still harbor hope of making a run this season.
Despite sitting at six games under .500, Rockies fans have more reason for hope now than they've had in weeks. The team has played a week of very good baseball, and they've done most of it on the road, which has been more hospitable this year than Coors Field.
Bettis' magnificent outing tonight might not necessarily herald the coming of a new star, but it will rank as one of the best pitching performances in franchise history regardless of where his career as a starter goes from here.