Matt Koch had a great Saturday night, but was three outs from perfect. Pitching the second game of the doubleheader, he retired the first 18 GreenJackets in a row. However, leading off the top of the seventh, on a full count fastball, Koch’s first three-ball count all night, Augusta LF Rashawn Payne tripled up the left-centerfield gap on an elevated heater to halt Koch’s effort at a perfect game. Koch then retired the next three batters in a row on a sac fly, a groundout and a fly out to face one over the minimum 21 for the seven inning game.
His reaction after recording the final out, and coming oh so close to a perfect game was classic. As the final out settled in third baseman Jeff Reynolds’ glove, Koch walked off the mound towards catcher Albert Cordero and gave a big shrug with his hands skyward.
How did he do it? Fastball mostly. Koch was 90-93 early and touched 95. By the later innings, he was 89-91, and touching 92.
He threw a few good changeups, which is a departure, and an improvement from where he was early in the year when there were outings when he only threw his fastball. (I figured some of Augusta’s lousy swings against him were based on mixing speeds. Koch told me it was more about fastball, and he did not throw a single changeup). He tried a few curve balls (five) too as the night went on, and while one induced a ground ball out, it was not a major weapon for him. In fact, he threw 78 fastballs and five curves, and that was it.
Koch told MiLB.com, the same, ”Tonight it was all about fastball command,” the 22-year-old right-hander said. “Throwing a few off-speed in here and there but not too often. The plan going into the game was trying to reestablish my fastball and being able to command it. Just happened tonight I was able to do it.”
How else did he do it? Defense. CF Brandon Nimmo made a smooth catch in deep centerfield in the second outrunning a drive over his head on the warning track. Against the very next batter, LF Stefan Sabol made a diving catch in shallow left to take a hit away on a bloop. SS Philip Evans preserved the perfecto a few innings later tracking down a grounder up the middle, spinning, and firing a strike to first in one of his better plays of the year. A pair of line drives found the gloves of corner infielders in the fifth and seventh inning that on some other night might have been hits.
In game one, the Gnats scored two runs in the bottom of the seventh for a comeback win that would ordinarily have been the lead story from a day of baseball. In the seventh, Nimmo and Sabol walked and then Eudy Pina and Cole Frenzel delivered RBI singles first to tie and then put the Gnats ahead.
Nimmo was 1-for-5 with two walks and two strikeouts between the two games.
Evans, who has been much better in the second half, was 0-for-5.