Huntsville, Ala. - (al.com) Brent Suter was half-drenched from a bucket of celebratory cold water splashed on him by teammate Andy Moye, but he still stood patiently signing autographs for 15 minutes, a Harvard University grad bonding with local elementary school kids.
"That's Suter," said Huntsville Stars manager Carlos Subero. "That's a kid that you can't stop pulling for."
On Wednesday afternoon, an energetic crowd of 2,426, mostly school children on a sun-splashed field trip, were pulling for Suter to make history. For eight innings, he owned a no-hitter; the only base-runner he allowed, on a walk, he immediately picked off first base.
But leading off the ninth, Mobile's Raywilly Gomez threw cold water onto Suter's no-hitter, slapping a worm-punishing single up the middle. Nonetheless, Huntsville went on to win 4-1, improving its record to 12-8, though winning only two of five in the series against the BayBears. The Stars open a 10-game road trip at Tennessee on Thursday.
"I felt good. I was just focused on executing the pitch (to Gomez) and I looked down for a split-second, and he..." Suter was relating in a post-game interview when, once again, he looked down for a split-second. That's how he missed Moye - who lost a no-hit bit with one out in the ninth last July 3 -- sneaking up behind with the water bucket.
Surprised, elated and jolted by the cold, Suter took a few seconds to regain his composure before acknowledging, "It was a little deflating. But it gave the team a chance to win."
Reliever Arcenio Leon made saved the win, though he did allow the inherited runner to score.
Suter is a lanky, 6-5 lefthander from Cincinnati's athletic powerhouse, Moeller High. He was drafted out of Harvard in the 31st round in the 2012 draft, something of a "legacy pick." Harvard alum Steffan Wilson, a former Huntsville first baseman who hit an epic playoff game homer in his Stars' debut in 2009, is now a Milwaukee scout and urged the Brewers to sign him.
Suter hasn't thrown a no-hitter, nor has he even gotten as close as he did Wednesday. Maybe that's why he didn't know he was supposed to go hide in the corner of a dugout in solitude, as is tradition, rather than what he did.
"In the dugout I was relaxed, talking to the guys. I was loose in there, trying to keep the energy level up," he said.
That's Suter, too.
"The energy and the aura that he brings to this team is amazing," pitching coach Chris Hook said. "In everything he does, it's 'I'm here to win.' It's contagious."
There is a joy in watching Suter, especially for the impatient. He works exceptionally quick.
"I pretty much developed that in college," he said. "I don't have spectacular stuff by any means. My calling card is just attacking the hitter, tempo-wise and strike-wise. Our motto in college was 'Work quick, throw strikes and attack the zone.'"
"The kid knows what he's got and knows how to work with it," Subero said. "He's the definition of a pitcher."
"You look at a no-hitter or near -no-hitter and think that's the top of what he can do," Hook said. "But he can do that every time. This is a sense of normalcy. .. The pace just forces hitters into the box and then he makes pitches and he never makes a mistake to the hitter's advantage. And he changes speeds so well."
The Stars finally broke the shutout in the seventh against reliever Bradin Hagens after starter Bryan Woodall pitched six innings of three-hit ball.
Adam Weisenburger sliced a double down the right field line, then moved to third as Nick Shaw beat out a bunt single. Then it was time for Suter's at-bat.
"We're all baseball people," Subero said. "We know it's a rare thing when you see a kid that has an opportunity (for a no-hitter). The human side takes over. But you've still got to be a manager. You can pull for the human kid, but the manager knows there's a ball game to be won."
But Subero left Suter in to bunt, a scenario eased when Shaw swiped second. But Suter walked on four pitches, then D'Vontrey Richardson poked a 2-2 pitch past diving third baseman Jake Lamb. Greg Hopkins followed with a single off the glove of second baseman Garrett Weber for a 2-0 lead. Shawn Zarraga walked in a run, then Jason Rogers made it 4-0 on a short sacrifice fly to right.
For Education Day at Joe W. Davis Stadium, this was history repeating itself.
It bore an uncanny resemblance to May 11, 2007, another Education Day, this time with 7,732 in the park. Three Stars pitchers - Lindsay Gulin, Corey Thurman and Marino Salas - worked that day against Mobile and Salas was one strike away from completing a no-hitter.
Manager Don Money had the tough decision that day to remove Gulin after five. Subero was facing that prospect with Suter, especially as his pitch count approached triple-digits.
Laughed Subero, if it had come down to the pitch count, "I told Chris you're going to pull him, not me."