HOUSTON – As Aaron Sanchez and Martín Maldonado headed out to warm up Saturday, they were surprised to see the greatest figures in Astros history around the infield at Minute Maid Park.
They weren’t acquired by the Astros until last Wednesday, so they can be forgiven for not realizing that the club would honor the inaugural class of the Astros Hall of Fame before Sanchez’s debut with the club against the Mariners.
Maldonando hasn’t even had time to unpack his bags. Sanchez and reliever Joe Biagini aren’t settled in yet either. But they’ve already made magic, combining with relievers Will Harris and Chris Devenski on the 12th no-hitter in Astros franchise history.
“I honestly didn’t even know the ceremony was going on,” Sanchez said, “until I walked outside getting ready to go through the game.”
Sanchez and Maldonado were too busy to enjoy the pregame ceremony as Hall of Famers Nolan Ryan, Joe Morgan, Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio along with club icons such as José Cruz, Mike Scott and Larry Dierker, J.R. Richard, Jimmy Wynn, J.R. Richard and Shane Reynolds were inducted into the first Astros Hall of Fame class.
Most of the crowd of 37,059 arrived early for the ceremony. Some even attempted to leave before the Astros’ 9-0 victory was over, prompting co-ace Gerrit Cole to let some fans know what was unfolding in the ninth inning.
“I said, ‘Why are you leaving? There’s a no-hitter,’” Cole said.
It was only the second combined no-hitter in franchise history, following the six-pitcher no-hitter the club threw on June 11, 2003, against the Yankees at Yankee Stadium. It was the first Astros no-hitter since Mike Fiers threw one on Aug. 21, 2015.
“This is everything you dream of,” Sanchez said. “A special thanks to (Maldonado) today doing his thing behind the dish. Even the starting pitchers and the pitching staff that kind of brought me in and showed me how they prepare and showed me what they look for, I think that played a big role today.”
Considering the moment, the legends in attendance, the three new players and the atmosphere at Minute Maid Park, what unfolded Saturday at Minute Maid Park was more than any player would dream.
It’s not often that a pitcher takes the mound in the presence of three pitchers who have also thrown no-hitters for his franchise, including the legendary Ryan, who threw a record seven no-hitters in his career. Moreover, Scott became the first pitcher in baseball history to clinch a division title with a no-hitter when he beat the Giants on Sept. 25, 1986.
Dierker threw his no-hitter on July 9, 1976. The late Don Wilson, who threw the third and fourth no-hitters in franchise history, was also inducted the Astros Hall of Fame and represented by his sister Saturday.
“You’re talking about something that they’ll talk about for 100 years,” Maldonado said. “So to be part of that, it’s a blessing.”
With Maldonado guiding from behind the plate, Sanchez threw the first six innings with two walks and six strikeouts. Harris handled the seventh, allowing a walk. Biagini, who was acquired along with Sanchez from the Blue Jays at the trade deadline, handled the eighth with a walk and a strikeout.
Devenski didn’t realize Sanchez, Harris and Biagini had held the Mariners without a hit until he started warming up.
“I knew the fans out there coming in they were super loud,” Devenski said. “I knew something was going on. I kind of looked up when I was warming up in the bullpen and saw a zero up there I had to step off the mound and take a step back and gather myself and go on out there and finish this.
“With this group of guys, it’s something that’s going to live forever. I’m happy to be part of it.”
Devenski induced a groundout to first from Kyle Seager. He then struck out Omar Narvaez before inducing a fly out to right from Mariners cleanup man Daniel Vogelbach to seal the no-hitter.
“Just trust Maldi, whatever he put down,” Devenski said. “Grip it and rip it, let it fly. One out at a time you got to focus out there…. When I saw Vogelbach hit it in the air and (Josh) Reddick catch it and everyone started running at me, that was pretty cool.
“Then like I said, all my teammates gave me a hug and we did our thing afterward.”
With so many guys playing pivotal roles for the combined no-hitter, Astros manager AJ Hinch didn’t know who to hug first.
He settled on Maldonado, the man who drew praise from everybody involved.
“He was everything to be able to establish everything right out the gate,” Sanchez said of Maldonado. “Throwing everything for strikes helped. After that it was just keeping guys off balance. In between innings he would give his two cents on what he’d seen and what he wanted.
“That goes a long way when you have someone behind there like that. … I can’t thank this group of guys (enough) to just welcome me the way they did and then to be able to have that type of thing.”
Maldonado’s family isn’t expected to land in Houston to join him until Sunday, so they had to watch the magical performance on television.
It was a night to remember, one of the best in the rich history of the organization that began as the Colt .45s in 1962.
Maldonado, Sanchez, Harris, Biagini and Devenski were all presented with bottles of champagne afterward. They all left them near their locker stalls in hopes of having their teammates autograph them tomorrow, collecting one final memento from one of the greatest nights in Astros history.
“Listen, I think this team’s got some good chemistry right now, so we’re just going to ride it,” Astros owner Jim Crane said. “But to get those two guys in that just came on the team to contribute to a no-hitter, it’s unbelievable. It’s fun tonight with the old guys.
“They had a good time. A couple got a little emotional and we really enjoyed honoring them. So it was fun to see that happening.”
Featured Image: Houston Astros Twitter
Inset Image: Bob Levey / Getty Images Sport