Bickley: Tyler Gilbert's no-hitter an unexpected and unforgettable reward


Bickley: Tyler Gilbert's no-hitter an unexpected and unforgettable reward

Arizona Diamondbacks starting pitcher Tyler Gilbert celebrates after his no-hitter against the San Diego Padres in a baseball game Saturday, Aug. 14, 2021, in Phoenix. It was Gilbert's first career start. The Diamondbacks won 7-0. (AP Photo/Matt York)

(AP Photo/Matt York)

Baseball can be old and cold. It can push you away with overwhelming amounts of tedious product and bad attitude.

Baseball can also spin magical stories, relentlessly finding new ways to bring you back in.

Tyler Gilbert is the latest example.

At age 27, the Diamondbacks pitcher tossed a no-hitter in his first career start. That hadn’t happened in 68 years.

It has happened only four times in history, and two of them occurred in the 1800’s.

The Diamondbacks have been mostly a disaster in 2021. But this weekend series against the Padres has been a nice show of defiance.

Gilbert’s performance was also an unexpected and unforgettable reward for those who chose to spend their Saturday night at Chase Field.

It also spawned a philosophical question: How bad do the Diamondbacks want the No. 1 overall pick in 2022?

The Diamondbacks are 4-6 in their past 10 games, no longer firmly entrenched in the cellar of Major League Baseball.

They now have as many wins as the Orioles, who had lost 10 consecutive games entering Sunday.

The Diamondbacks sorely need the sizzle of a No. 1 pick, similar to what Deandre Ayton and Kyler Murray have provided their respective franchises.

They need another centerpiece for the future. But tanking games destroy culture. It angers the sporting gods. And sometimes, it backfires badly, tearing apart relationships in the process.

The Diamondbacks’ victory on Saturday was Gilbert’s first complete game as a professional on any level, a career where he has bounced around more than a little bit, wearing uniforms for teams like the IronPigs and BlueClaws.

When the pandemic of 2020 forced the cancellation of minor league baseball, Gilbert worked as an electrician, helping out his father.

There was an element of luck in Saturday’s no-hitter.

Entering the game, Gilbert was on a stringent pitch count (85).

Manager Torey Lovullo expanded that number as the game expanded, admitting the moving target was turning him into a nervous wreck inside the dugout.

Gilbert helped himself dramatically with a three-pitch performance in the eighth inning, two of which were warning track outs.

According to Statcast, the Padres had 10 hard-hit balls against Gilbert, a big number for a team with zero hits.

Imagine if Lovullo felt compelled to pull Gilbert from the game, in a season where he’s made a handful of inexplicable late-game blunders.

There was also an element of innocence. Gilbert’s parents were in attendance.

His catcher on Saturday was Daulton Varsho, who has played in only 32 games behind the plate.

Their collective inexperience helped forge the depth of the moment, and the look on their respective faces, as they rushed toward each other after the final out, is something you’d expect from the “Field of Dreams.”

Gilbert’s performance came in the wake of a magical event staged on the Field of Dreams in Iowa, a rare weeknight regular season baseball game that commanded a giant audience on national television.

In the 21st century, that normally only happens in football.

Gilbert’s no-hitter was also the eighth of the season in Major League Baseball, and the abundance of pitching gems seemed to prove a different point.

All the previous no-hitters seemed to illuminate the lack of hitting and the lack of action attempting to finally kill a wayward sport.

But that wasn’t the case with Gilbert. His no-hitter felt perfect. It felt like magic, the kind baseball still conjures up every now and again.

Follow @danbickley