WASHINGTON | Gee, that looked pretty good.
A 24-year-old right-hander provided the New York Mets a lift in an otherwise dismal second half of the season Tuesday night. Dillon Gee, making his major league debut, took a no-hitter into the sixth inning, leading a 4-1 victory over the Washington Nationals.
“That went better than expected. I kind of blacked out, I think,” Gee said with a laugh. “I don’t know what happened out there.”
What happened was that Gee did a masterful job over seven innings, keeping the Nationals off balance mixing his slider with a well-located fastball that hovered around 90 mph. No one could touch him until Willie Harris led off the sixth with a home run to right field, the only run the rookie would allow.
“He’s a pitcher,” New York manager Jerry Manuel said. “Any time you can get a pitcher on his game, he can do those types of things for you. What was impressive is that there was an inning where he went to the offspeed pitches and was able to throw them at any time, at any count. He’s got a good mound presence. He’s a good fielder. He’s a good piece, there’s no doubt about it.
“You like to see a guy have that type of presentation his first time out on the mound. It didn’t look as though there was any anxiety, any issues with him in any form or fashion.”
In that case, Gee sure had his manager fooled. With a dozen or so family and friends in the ballpark, he was flush with rookie jitters.
“I was very nervous,” he said. “I’m surprised that first pitch didn’t hit the backstop.”
In a rare matchup of pitchers making big league debuts, Gee (1-0) outpitched Yunesky Maya, a 28-year-old Cuban defector who signed with the Nationals and fast-tracked his way through the team’s minor league organization. Maya (0-1) allowed a three-run first-inning homer to Ike Davis and a run in the second before retiring 11 of the last 12 batters he faced.
“I feel pretty good today. Like you said, it’s a dream come true,” said Maya, using catcher Wil Nieves as an interpreter. “I felt nervous in the beginning of the game. I left that one pitch up and I paid for it. … I got a lot of experience from this game, and hopefully it will be the first one of many.”
Gee allowed two hits with three strikeouts and four walks. He threw 53 of his 86 pitches for strikes. The first three batters he faced all flied out to center. He didn’t allow a baserunner until a walk in the third. He didn’t have a strikeout until the fourth, when he sent down Ian Desmond (slider), Ryan Zimmerman (slider) and Adam Dunn (fastball) in order — all swinging. He thoroughly embarrassed Wilson Ramos with an offspeed pitch in a strikeout that ended the fifth.
“I’m not overpowering,” Gee said. “I’ve just got to hit the corners and keep them off balance.”
Gee even sliced an RBI single in his first major league at-bat, a single to right that scored Ruben Tejada that belied Gee’s 0 for 22 performance at the plate this year in the minors. For a while, Gee was the most perfect player in baseball history, sporting a 1.000 batting average and a 0.00 ERA. He finally spoiled it when he struck out in the fourth.
“That was awesome,” Gee said of his hit. “That’s been the joke all season with me in Triple-A. Everybody made fun of me, so it was really nice to get one here.”
Jesus Feliciano and Bobby Parnell took care of the eighth inning for the Mets, and Hisanori Takahashi survived an adventurous ninth for his fourth save, getting pinch-hitter Ivan Rodriguez to hit into a double play to end the game.
Both starters received the usual formalities of a first appearance on the big stage. The ball Maya threw — a 91 mph called strike — for his first pitch was taken out of the game for posterity. So was Gee’s first heave, an 89 mph called strike, as well the ball from his hit. The sense of history didn’t exactly pack ‘em in, however, with only 13,835 on hand at Nationals Park for a game between the two bottom teams in the NL East.
Maya worked five innings, allowing five hits and four runs with two walks and three strikeouts. He signed with the Nationals on Aug. 3 after a standout career in the Cuban major league and appearances for his native country in the 2006 and 2009 World Baseball Classic. He made five starts at three different levels before his promotion to Washington. Unlike Gee, Maya couldn’t invite his choice of beloved family members to his debut, having left them behind in Cuba.
“I’m not sure if they were watching,” he said, “but I know their minds and souls were there giving me support.”
Gee had a more stable 2010, going 13-8 and leading all of Triple-A with 165 strikeouts for the Mets’ affiliate in Buffalo. A 21st-round draft pick out of Texas-Arlington in 2007, Gee missed much of 2009 with a torn labrum in his right shoulder. Manuel now has to decide whether to give Gee another start or shut him down with an eye on 2010.
“I would love to see him in another shot,” Manuel said. “We’ll probably get together at some point and map out a plan for him, because it looks like he can be a piece for this organization.”
Notes: This was only the fifth game since 1980 in which both starting pitchers were making their big league debuts. The last time it happened was April 9, 2009, when Detroit’s Rick Porcello and Toronto’s Ricky Romero opposed one another. … The Mets improved to 3-6 with one game to go on a 10-game road trip. … The Nationals failed in their attempt to win four straight games for the first time this season. … Mets 3B David Wright was a late scratch with a bruised left ring finger. He hurt it while sliding into second base during Monday’s game, but Manuel said Wright will return Wednesday. … Before the game, the Mets made their annual visit to wounded veterans at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
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