Baseball

USC baseball alum Tyler Gilbert throws no-hitter in first career start

Gilbert, who pitched for the Trojans in 2015, became the fourth pitcher to twirl a no-hitter in his first MLB start.

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It would be hard to find a performance more jam-packed with history than USC baseball alum Tyler Gilbert’s on Saturday.

Gilbert, who donned the cardinal and gold in 2015 before being selected in the sixth round of that year’s draft, twirled a no-hitter for his Arizona Diamondbacks against the San Diego Padres on Saturday night in Phoenix. It was the eighth no-hitter of the 2021 Major League Baseball season, tying the all-time record for the most no-nos in a year in MLB history.

Oh, and it came in Gilbert’s first career start.

That’s right. Gilbert got called up from the Reno Aces, Arizona’s Triple-A affiliate, on Aug. 3, and it’s been all uphill from there. The 27-year-old lefty fired a perfect eighth inning with two strikeouts that day, earning a hold in the Diamondbacks’ 3-1 win. Gilbert was summoned from the bullpen two days later — and two days after that — each time conceding no earned runs and keeping his ERA at a perfect 0.00.

After the three relief appearances, Gilbert was given the start on Saturday. The rest, quite literally, is history.

Gilbert became just the fourth pitcher in MLB history to throw a no-hitter in his first career start. He’s the first to do so since 1953, when Bobo Holloman accomplished the feat. The other two, Ted Breitenstein and Bumpus Jones, did it in the 1890s.

The only blemishes — if you can really call them that — on Gilbert’s line were leadoff walks in the first, fourth and seventh innings, all to Padres left fielder Tommy Pham. But despite the free passes, Gilbert only faced one more than the minimum, erasing Pham on double plays by San Diego’s Adam Frazier in the first and fourth.

He was also backed up by some stellar defense — including some of his own. Padres first baseman Eric Hosmer laced a 96.1-mph line drive up the middle in the fifth, but Gilbert reflexively stuck out his glove to snag it and carry the no-no into the sixth. (The Diamondbacks had Hosmer shifted, so the out likely would’ve been recorded anyway, but Gilbert’s grab was noteworthy nonetheless.)

The ninth inning, when Gilbert fittingly retired Pham to cap off the no-hitter, certainly overshadowed a separate piece of history that the lefty made in the eighth. In that inning, Gilbert retired Austin Nola, Hosmer and Wil Myers on three consecutive pitches, becoming one of fewer than 200 pitchers (the exact number is uncertain) to throw a three-pitch inning.

His road to history hasn’t been a traditional one. Gilbert, who compiled a 2.79 ERA in 22 appearances at USC, spent last summer working as an electrician with his father Greg, trying to make ends meet after the coronavirus pandemic shut down the 2020 Minor League season. Gilbert was an electrician again on Saturday, this time on the mound — and he did it with Greg in attendance.

“I’d rather be doing this than pulling wires,” Gilbert said after the game. “No offense, dad.”

Gilbert’s no-hitter was just the third in Diamondbacks history. The author of the first? USC alum Randy Johnson, whose 2004 perfect game was his second career no-hitter and came 19 years after the Big Unit got drafted out of USC.

Gilbert’s feat on Saturday wasn’t perfect like Johnson’s. But it was the next closest thing. And instead of coming in his 453rd start like the Hall of Famer’s perfecto, it came in his first.

“It’s amazing. It just hasn’t hit me too much yet,” Gilbert said. “But it’s really cool. I can’t really describe it.”