LAKE ELSINORE – Typically, a 15-0 drubbing is about as anti-climatic as it gets in baseball. However, when history is at stake, things can get a little intense. That’s what happened Friday night in Lake Elsinore.
Garrett Hawkins and Alan Mundo combined to throw the first no-hitter in Lake Elsinore Storm history, as the red-hot Storm cruised to victory over Inland Empire in front of an energetic 1,776 at The Diamond. The Storm actually came within two outs of a perfect game.
Hawkins made the start for the Storm and was strong from the outset. Hawkins retired the 66ers in order, using a fastball that sat in the 92-94 range up in the zone and using his mid-80s changeup down in the zone. It was a combination that kept Inland Empire off-balance all night.
“He threw inside really well,” said Storm manager Eric Junge postgame. “He had fastball command, he threw a bunch of changeups and he stayed aggressive the entire time. He attacked, attacked, and attacked and he got on a roll, and the next thing you know you look up and he’s got 21 in a row.”
While Hawkins’ performance was the headliner, the Lake Elsinore offense was patient and explosive. They got on the board in the second inning when second baseman Wyatt Hoffman came up with two outs and a runner on third. Hoffman hit a dribbler back to the mound. Initially, it appeared to be a routine play but Hoffman ended up colliding with 66ers first baseman Juan Bonilla on a throw that pulled him off the bag a bit. The ball got free and Hoffman was safe at first. He attempted to take second when the throw got away from the first baseman but he was thrown out. The play was scored as a single and Hoffman was credited with his first RBI as a professional.
With the lead, Hawkins came back out in the third and continued his dominance, inducing a ground ball to first before striking out the next two hitters.
Lake Elsinore scored again in the fourth, courtesy of Hoffman, the 23-year-old son of Hall-of-Famer Trevor Hoffman. He lined a pitch into the left-field gap to plate a run and hustled it into a triple for the first extra-base hit of his professional career.
The Storm tacked on two more in the fifth, courtesy of the top prospect on the team. Outfielder James Wood hit a two-run shot over the right-field wall that left the yard in a hurry. It was Wood’s sixth homer of the year and second of the series.
“[Right now] I am just on time,” said Wood after the Storm victory. “[I’m] just ready to hit the heater and I am coming into the box with a good plan and that makes it a lot easier to execute.”
After Hawkins set down the 66ers in order again in the sixth, the Storm offense exploded for seven runs to turn the game into a route. Six consecutive Storm hitters reached base to start the inning, culminating with another big hit from Wood, who took a fastball to the left-center gap. As the ball rolled to the wall, Wood – who was hustling all the way out of the box – cruised into third with a triple and then scored when the throw got away and rolled into the Storm dugout.
“I was thinking three all the way,” laughed Wood, who has hit in 14 straight games and now sports a .333/.451/.602 line on the year.
There may have been some concern that the long wait between innings could disrupt Hawkins’ rhythm, but the Canadian righty put that to rest quickly, inducing a a pop-up that Hoffman ranged back nicely into the outfield to catch. He then struck out his seventh and final batter of the night before getting a fly ball to get through seven perfect innings.
“I think they had a conversation about the length of the inning,” said Hawkins. “Halfway through that inning, we had put up like four runs and I was moving around and trying to stay loose. I felt pretty good. I got into a flow and was able to go, go, go. In the seventh inning, I felt a little tired but overall I felt good.”
Hawkins attributed his excellent outing to his gameplan of pitching aggressively with his fastball up in the zone.
“In and up is where my fastball plays and I used my changeup a lot today and went up [with my fastball] and down [with my changeup]. They struggled earlier in the week with changeups so I figured I should throw it a bit more.”
“It was pretty plain and simple for me,” said Junge. “Especially in the first inning, Hawkins jammed a couple of guys, he showed that he can attack the zone, attack the bats, break some bats and that opens you up a little bit, especially those left-handed hitters and he used the changeup there. It was a simple formula.”
After seven perfect innings, Hawkins had thrown only 77 pitches, his initial target for the night. There were whispers in the dugout that he might be allowed to extend further for a chance at history, but ultimately he was removed after seven innings.
“I think I went 93 [pitches] last week. I think that they knew that I had it in me and I think they even made a call to see if they would let me roll and keep going, but no dice.”
The Storm turned things over to reliever Alan Mundo, who has thrown the ball extremely well over the last few weeks. Mundo set down the 66ers in order, using a mid-90s fastball to induce a groundout and a pair of flyouts.
Lake Elsinore’s offense struck again in the bottom of the eighth which included a fun moment. At the start of the game, Hoffman was chosen as the Double-Double hitter of the game. If Hoffman came up with a double at any point in the game, the fans in Section 109 would leave the game with a voucher for a free Double-Double at In-N-Out. Hoffman came into the game with zero career doubles.
With two outs, Hoffman lined a pitch down the left-field corner and cruised into second with the first double of his professional career all while scoring a free burger for a section of fans.
“Earlier in the game, I saw I had a chance for a triple so I was chugging around the bases,” said Hoffman after the game. “When I got back in the dugout, the guys were giving me a hard time, saying ‘you didn’t get it, you have to hit a double.’ But [I said] a triple can’t count? We can’t give them a triple-triple?
“It was pretty cool. [The pitcher] set me up with a heater up and then I recognized he was going to go with a slider away and I kind of just poked it and it happened to go over [third base] and at that moment I was rounding first and cruising into second. I looked at Section 109 and they all had their hands up and I decided to point at them. It was a cool moment with the fans.”
Hoffman signed last winter as an undrafted free agent out of the University of Pacific. The 23-year-old is playing for his third Padres affiliate after starting the season in extended spring training. With the promotion of Max Ferguson to Fort Wayne and Jackson Merrill still on the shelf, Hoffman should have an opportunity to play regularly for the Storm.
“I’m just trying to fill a role for the team and help the team win. They were pretty hot in the first half, and I’m not trying to be Max Ferguson, not take his place but help the team like he did.”
Three outs from history, Mundo started the ninth with a groundball to short, but then hit Bonilla with a 1-2 pitch to lose the perfect game. He got a liner to second before walking the next batter to add a bit of drama. However, the 22-year-old from Mexico bounced back and got Arol Vera to ground to first, where Carlos Luis made an excellent diving play and flip the ball to Mundo on the coverage to lock up the game.
Game Notes: Lost in the no-hitter was the continued excellent play of Marcos Castañon. The infielder had a laser double down the left field line and a towering homer to left field that cleared the scoreboard. Castañon has six homers since June 1.
“His on-base is over .400 this last month or so, which is great to see,” said Junge. “I think there was a time where he didn’t want to walk or work counts – he wanted to go pull-side jack. But I think as he matures as a hitter, you take what the pitcher gives you and if they don’t give you anything you take your walk, get your on-base percentage up and when they feed you a mistake, he still has the hands to turn on it.”
The perceptions of an ongoing no-hitter are interesting. While some players tracking the situation avoided saying anything about it, Junge and pitching coach Leo Rosales talked about it extensively in the dugout, not worried about jinxes.
In addition to Hoffman’s career night at the plate, he looked comfortable at second base, running down several balls going back into the outfield that could have dropped.
*Mark Wilkens also contributed reporting to this game story.