Yordano Ventura, gone four months, would’ve been 26 on Saturday.
Edinson Volquez was his friend. Is his friend, Volquez would say. So Volquez awakened Saturday, a day he was scheduled to pitch, and sent a photo into the world. In it, Volquez and Ventura stood arm-and-arm in their Kansas City Royals blues. They’d won a World Series together once, not so long ago.
“Miss you broth,” said the message. “HBD to Ace Ventura one love.”
HBD. Happy birthday. One love.
“They’re watching right now,” Volquez told reporters afterward, “what happened today. And they might feel really happy right now.”
Soaked by Gatorade and smeared in shaving cream, having sustained an ankle injury a few pitches into his start, having thrown 98 pitches, Volquez dedicated the sixth no-hitter in Marlins history, the 296th in major league history, the 3-0 win against the Arizona Diamondbacks, to the two men who were not there.
When it was done, Volquez tapped his chest and waved to the crowd, which seemed to understand the gesture.
He struck out 10 batters, including all three Diamondbacks in the ninth inning on changeups. He walked two batters, one in the fifth inning and another in the eighth. Both innings ended on double-play grounders. When pinch-hitter Chris Owings chased a changeup at the very end, Volquez grinned and limped to greet his teammates. He’d limped for 2 ½ hours.
“I didn’t know if he was going to be able to keep going, honestly,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said.
The first out of the game was registered at first base, a flip from Marlins first baseman Justin Bour to Volquez, with leadoff hitter Rey Fuentes gaining from behind. Volquez lunged to the bag with his right foot. Fuentes slammed into him over the bag. Both crashed to the ground.
“I thought I broke my ankle,” Volquez said.
He stood. He eventually returned to the mound. He threw a few pitches and nodded.
He said he’d told his manager and the trainer, “Just let me go out there and compete and do my best today.”
They checked with him after every inning, and in the middle innings began assuming Volquez was nearly done. His pitch count was low, however, and the innings were going fast, and suddenly it was the seventh inning and there’d be no more asking Volquez if he could go on.
On a re-taped ankle, he hammered the strike zone with a fastball that does not impress with its velocity, but with its movement and its cleverness. He got ahead with his curveball. And he ended at-bats with a changeup that darted and faded and dived. He said he did not once shake off his catcher, the 26-year-old J.T. Realmuto, who’d never before called a no-hitter. And then Volquez would drag his ankle into the next inning, and the next.
By the time of his smile, he’d joined Al Leiter, Kevin Brown, A.J. Burnett, Anibal Sanchez and Henderson Alvarez among Marlins with no-hitters. He’d thrown the first no-hitter in more than a year, since Jake Arrieta’s last April.
More, maybe, he’d given the Marlins and the folks who suffer with them a fulfilling afternoon. Fernandez died eight months ago. The sting remains. The ballclub has not been very good again. It is in the process of being sold, which most would consider a positive development, except in the meantime the season is in limbo.
So, for a few hours, a man they’re just getting to know, who’d pitched inconsistently and won once, endured some pain and was brilliant. Some there would say they’d had that Saturday afternoon coming, that memorable day, that rising drama, that crowd of Marlins celebrating at the pitcher’s mound.
Then that man raised his eyes to them and tapped his chest and waved. Just a ballgame, sure. Except Edinson Volquez knew it was different from the moment he woke up. And then he made it special, too.