The first time Wilson Eduardo Alvarez started a major-league game, he couldn't have pitched much worse. Yesterday, in his second start, Alvarez couldn't have pitched much better.
More than two years passed between big-league starts for the 21-year-old Chicago White Sox lefthander who yesterday pitched the sixth no-hitter in the major leagues this year.
His first start came on July 24, 1989, with the Texas Rangers. Against the Toronto Blue Jays, he faced five batters -- two of them homered, one got a single and two of them walked.
"That happened too quick. I started the season in A ball and then they called me up to Double A, I played three weeks there, and then they called me up," he said yesterday.
As quickly as he was called up, he was gone. The next day he was on his way back to Double A Tulsa.
Four days later the White Sox acquired Alvarez, along with Sammy Sosa and Scott Fletcher, in exchange for Harold Baines and Fred Manrique. Last year, he split time between Triple A Vancouver and Double A Birmingham.
This year, Alvarez again leapt from Double A to the major leagues. By the time he made it to Baltimore on Sunday, even White Sox manager Jeff Torborg had forgotten about his start with Texas, scribbling "first major-league start" in the notes he takes on his lineup card.
Despite the fact that he threw no-hitters 12 times between 1981 and 1986 in his native Venezuela, Alvarez said he never could have imagined throwing one in the major leagues.
"Right now I am so happy. I just want my family to see," he said in front of the assembled media that was still trying to figure out exactly who he was and from where he had come. "I know they are going to be so excited."
As it so happens, yesterday's game from Baltimore was beamed back to Venezuela via satellite as the game of the week. You can bet they were dancing in the streets of Maracaibo last night.
Alvarez's wife, Dihainna, was in Baltimore to see her husband's feat first-hand. It is with her that Alvarez had planned to spend last night celebrating, over "a nice meal."
Alvarez might have considered taking White Sox centerfielder Lance Johnson along with him.
It was his diving catch on a quickly sinking Chris Hoiles line drive in the eighth inning that saved the no-hitter for Alvarez.
"The ball was perfectly placed between me and [leftfielder] Mike Huff," Johnson said. Both ran for the ball, but Huff backed off at the last minute, leaving Johnson with the potential to become hero or goat.
"Knowing that Mike was going to be there to back me up helped me go for it," Johnson said. "You've just got to make an effort on a play like that, you don't get a chance to play in many no-hitters."
There was drama to this no-hitter even before Johnson's catch. In the seventh inning, catcher Ron Karkovice had trouble handling a Cal Ripken dribbler to the left of home plate, and then threw the ball past Dan Pasqua at first base, allowing Ripken to move to second. Error, catcher. But don't add an asterisk to Alvarez's no-no, because replay clearly showed a good throw would have nailed the hustling Ripken.
"When the ball hit the grass, it just kept on going," Karkovice said. "I couldn't believe it kept on going that far out there. I was saying to myself, 'Just give me an error, I don't care.' I just wanted the kid to throw a no-hitter."
By the ninth inning, so did the more than 40,000 "Orioles" fans. After retiring leadoff hitter Mike Devereaux on a fly ball to center and striking out Juan Bell, he walked Ripken.
"When it got late in the game, I said, 'We're not going to take a chance, we're not going to let Cal Ripken break it up,' " Torborg said. "We weren't going to take a chance anywhere around the heart of the plate."
Torborg is no stranger to no-hitters, having caught three of them -- for Sandy Koufax in 1965, Bill Singer in 1970 (both with the Dodgers) and Nolan Ryan in 1973 with the Angels.
But then Alvarez walked Dwight Evans, and there were two on for Randy Milligan. With a 7-0 lead, the only thing Alvarez could lose was his no-hitter.
The first pitch was a called strike. Milligan then fouled two back to the right side. The next pitch was a ball. And the last was a breaking ball that Milligan chased to give Alvarez the no-hitter he never even really had time to dream about.
When it was over, Alvarez didn't jump up and down. He didn't scream. He didn't cry. He shook Karkovice's hand before his new teammates arrived to congratulate him.
"I don't think it had sunk in yet," Karkovice said. "After a couple of minutes, though, with everyone out there, you saw that big smile on his face."