The article originally appeared on The Daily Nole on May 22, 2016
In early March of this year against Toledo, Florida State pulled off one of the more bizarre combined no-hitters anyone will ever see. Pitchers Cole Sands, Cobi Johnson and Jim Voyles combined to throw nine no-hit innings, but two unearned runs by the Rockets had the contest knotted at two entering the bottom of the ninth.
The Seminoles pushed across the winning run on a bunt single from Matt Henderson, giving FSU its first no-hitter in more than 18 years. The previous Seminole hurler to be part of a no-hitter was Chris Chavez, who threw a complete game no-hitter against Charleston Southern on Feb. 18, 1998.
Chavez said he learned of the combined no-hitter from his dad, who attended the game that night. Chavez thinks his parents secretly rooted against FSU pitchers in the midst of no-hitters over the years, because they wanted him to remain the last Seminole to throw one.
“I was the opposite,” he said. “I always wanted someone to get it because it doesn’t take away from my accomplishment. I would like someone else who is a Seminole to experience that.”
Chavez’s no-hitter came in the second game of a midweek series against the Buccaneers. The night before, Chavez’s roommate John Bentley tossed a 1-hitter in a 16-0 victory. Chavez was off to just a 1-2 start when he took the mound that night and was just looking to pitch well enough to work his way back into the weekend rotation, so he could pitch against rival Florida later in the month.
“I was kind of in a situation that year where there were a lot of ups and downs,” Chavez said. “It was peaks and valleys and really no in between. I knew I needed to go out and pitch well, so I could pitch that weekend against the Gators.”
Chavez joked that when pitchers who throw or flirt with no-hitters say they didn’t realize they had one going, they’re almost always lying. Chavez was well aware of what was going on that February night.
“You also kind of know when your stuff is good and when you just have it,” he said. “When I really got to thinking about it was the sixth or seventh inning. That’s when you get the feeling that ‘hey man, this can happen’.”
Unlike March’s walk-off no-hitter against Toledo, Chavez’s no-hitter lacked drama. The Seminoles were up 9-0 after four innings in what would be an eventual 13-0 victory over the Buccaneers.
Often times, when pitchers are flirting with a no-hitter, they’re left to themselves in the dugout or teammates will make an effort not to talk to him. With a lopsided score and Chavez already issuing walks and committing an error, he said there was no reason not to be loose.
“I’m very outgoing and an energetic guy, so I’m into the game as much as everyone else,” Chavez said. “I had already walked a couple and had the error, so it wasn’t a big deal right then. In the eighth inning, you kind of felt it in the dugout. That’s when guys really started to feel like it could happen.”
Chavez had thrown three no-hitters at Booker T. Washington High School in Pensacola, but as he took the mound for the ninth inning, he was embarking on something that hadn’t been done by a Seminole in a decade.
Chavez struck out a career-high 11 batters that night — all with his curveball. Chavez remembers most of the balls that were put in play that evening being routine chances for the FSU defense behind him.
That was the case at least up until the ninth inning when a Charleston Southern hitter delivered a hot one-hopper right back at the mound. Chavez recalls just trying to protect himself from the bullet back up the middle when he realized he had fielded the ball and made the throw over to first for the out.
“I fielded it by accident,” Chavez said. “I ended up getting a phone call the next day telling me I was on CNN’s plays of the day and not for the no-hitter, but for that play on the mound.”
Chavez considers the play lucky, but when a no-hitter is involved, a little bit of luck is sometimes necessary.
“You got to have a lot of things go your way for a no-hitter,” he said. “I made one good play. A lot of times, it takes three or four great plays. I don’t want to take away from myself or anyone else that threw a no-hitter, but luck is definitely involved.”
Following the combined no-hitter by the FSU trio earlier this year, Chavez had the chance to talk to Sands, Johnson and Voyles on FaceTime.
“You could tell seeing their faces how excited they were,” Chavez said. “For Cole to get to experience something like that early in his career should really help his confidence down the road. Cobi has dominant stuff and was really starting to come into his own. It’s a shame he had to have that (injury) happen to him and I hate that he had to have the Tommy (John Surgery) and I hope he can come back a little bit stronger. Voyles, both Jim and Ed, are having phenomenal seasons.”
The players joked with Chavez about throwing a no-hitter while giving up two runs, but sometimes, Chavez said, things happen that are beyond a pitcher’s control.
he defense wasn’t great behind them, but they did their jobs,” he said. “I was just trying to let them know that sometimes pitchers can’t do everything.”
Chavez, an eventual 27th round pick of the Atlanta Braves, grew up idolizing a number of great FSU pitchers like Richie Lewis, Jonathan Johnson and Paul Wilson, the first overall pick in the 1994 Major League Baseball Amateur Draft. Unlike Chavez, all three would go on to pitch in the big leagues, but none of those three ever pitched a no-hitter.
“Richie Lewis was my favorite pitcher at FSU and he never threw one,” Chavez said. “It’s amazing to think about all the great pitchers who have come through FSU who never got to have one. Then you look at the big leagues at someone like Greg Maddux and you think, how did he never throw one? It makes it special to say ‘hey, I got them in one category’.”