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Pitt’s Pidich Comes Inches From History

Pitt’s Pidich Comes Inches From History

PITTSBURGH — Last Saturday, Pitt senior Matt Pidich came about as close as humanly possible to throwing a no-hitter, without actually accomplishing the feat.

Pidich, looking for the Panthers’ first no-no since 1981, didn’t think anything was unusual before his start against LIU Brooklyn at Pitt’s Cost Field on Saturday. It was the first game of a doubleheader, so he’d be working quickly and using the stuff that has propelled him to a staff-best 2.56 ERA as a starting pitcher.

Things were rolling along, as a pitcher’s duel broke out and the game was scoreless into the sixth inning. To that point, Pidich had dealt with some traffic, with a walk and a stolen base in the fourth and a walk in the fifth. But he hadn’t allowed a hit, something that he first became keenly aware of as the Panthers’ offense was building an inning in the bottom of the sixth and he looked out to the scoreboard check the count.

“I just happened to see all the zeroes across the board,” Pidich said. “I just turned my attention away from that and stayed with the same routine I do between innings.”

After Pidich worked around an error in the seventh and authored a 1-2-3 eighth inning, the situation had drawn everyone’s attention.

“Guys weren’t really talking to me as the game kept going on,” Pidich said. “I was just trying to ignore it, stay within myself each inning and try to continue getting outs.”

For most of 2018, staying within himself has done Pidich a world of good. The redshirt senior from Aberdeen, N.J. came into the year with just nine career starts under his belt. But he’s been Pitt’s best option by a long shot. His 70 1/3 innings pitched leads the staff, and second-place R.J. Freure has tossed just 48.

Never drafted, Pidich has drawn significant interest from scouts this season, and it looks likely he’ll be selected in the MLB Draft this June. But none of that mattered much to Pidich on Saturday, as he faced LIU Brooklyn for the ninth time, looking to break a 37-year-old streak.

“It was getting weird,” Pidich said. “It was late in the game. I was very close to winning the game, getting the first complete game in my career and potentially a no-hitter. That’s pretty overwhelming, honestly.”

It’s a feeling that’s familiar to Michael Luciow. Luciow threw two no-hitters for Pitt in 1981, the second one coming in a 4-0 victory over Robert Morris at Trees Field on May 9 of that year — the last time a Pitt pitcher has accomplished the feat.

“More or less, coming down the stretch there, no one’s taking to you — superstition more than anything,” Luciow said when reached via telephone. “It was just a focus to throw good strikes and make sure that if they beat you, they beat you with your best pitch.”

After a leadoff walk, a bunt and a ground out in the ninth, Pidich had a full count on Blackbirds infielder Luis Arias de los Santos. The 3-2 pitch froze Arias de los Santos, but home plate umpire Greg Howard ruled that it was just a bit up and out of the strike zone. An inch or two lower, or maybe an umpire in a bit more of a hurry, and Pidich could have had his place in Pitt history sealed.

It wasn’t to be. Arias de los Santos walked and the next batter, infielder Andrew Turner, sent Pidich’s 116th pitch of the game down the left-field line for an RBI double that not only took away Pidich’s no-hitter, but tied the game at 1-1 in the top of the ninth.

“I thought I made a good pitch, the one (Turner) hit,” Pidich said. “I guess he just beat me.”

Pidich’s teammates picked him up, as reliever Yaya Chentouf finished things in the top half of the inning and David Yanni hit a walk-off RBI single to secure victory for the Panthers.

“It was a cool experience,” Pidich said. “Not many people that I’ve played with have had a no-hitter through nine innings.”

The fact that his teammates picked him up after he “felt like I lost” walking off the mound probably made the ending a bit more palatable for Pidich. As a senior, he hasn’t just put up solid individual results that have gotten him professional interest, he’s been part of a resurgence of the team that has won five straight series and are in third place in the ACC Coastal Division. More importantly, they’re tied for the No. 7 overall seed as the regular season comes to a close and are poised to make their first ACC Tournament.

“I came to Pitt looking to change the program and have a part in changing the program,” Pidich said. “Hopefully, that can stay here and keep the tradition going with what we’ve built. … “We’re right there. If we just keep doing what we’re doing, we can make the tournament and see what happens come playoff time.”

Luciow still follows the team, and while he wasn’t watching that day, he’s hopeful that his time with that particular piece of Pitt baseball history ends sooner rather than later.

“I was kind of shocked that I was the last one,” he said. “It’s been since 1981. Heck, I’m rooting for Pitt all the time, no matter what sport it is. … I hope that somebody does beat it.”

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker

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