SAN DIEGO - At 6 feet 10, Chris Young is hard to miss on a baseball mound, even though somehow, some way, the Pirates did.
It is safe to say they never will neglect him again.
Young nearly scorched his former employer as no one had in 35 years by inching within two outs of a no-hitter in the San Diego Padres' 6-2 victory last night at Petco Park. But, with just one mighty stroke of the bat, Joe Randa's pinch-hit two-run home run, the roar of 40,077 was dimmed and all historical implications doused.
It dampened Young's spirits a bit, too.
"Probably tonight, when I go to bed, I'll think about it, especially the at-bat by Randa," he would say later. "I'll think of it as the one that got away."
As it was, Young exited after 8 2/3 innings with a one-hitter on six strikeouts and three walks, plus the bonus of a much-needed victory for his team. The Padres remained a half-game ahead of Los Angeles in the West Division.
But, oh, what could have been ...
No pitcher in San Diego's 37-year history has thrown a no-hitter, a span of 5,897 games.
Only seven have no-hit the Pirates, no one since St. Louis' Bob Gibson on Aug. 14, 1971.
The event is rare anywhere these days: The only no-hitter in Major League Baseball in the past two seasons came Sept. 6, by the Florida Marlins' Anibal Sanchez.
It seemed Young was destined for something even greater earlier on, when he was perfect through 5 2/3 innings. But pinch-hitter Rajai Davis drew a five-pitch walk to foil that.
Davis was caught sliding beyond second base on a steal attempt, though, and Young continued working to the minimum count of batters.
The coasting resumed, as he sliced 1-2-3 through the Pirates' top three in the seventh, then struck out Jason Bay and Ronny Paulino for bookends to his perfect eighth.
The stage was set for the ninth. His pitch count was a supremely efficient 82, and the bottom of the order was due.
Ryan Doumit lined a shot to deep right, but Brian Giles coolly backtracked for the first out.
Jose Bautista walked.
Next was Randa, who was Pirates manager Jim Tracy's choice over Jeromy Burnitz because Young fares better against left-handed hitters.
Young did not like the selection.
"At that point, I'm just trying not to get too emotional and let my adrenaline get the best of me," Young said. "And Randa, a veteran like that, comes up like that in that situation ... it's hard."
No harder, certainly, than it was for Randa after not taking an at-bat in the previous four games. But this one was quality from the outset: He took three consecutive balls, then a fastball down the middle for a strike.
The next pitch was a carbon copy, and Randa launched it high into the center-field bleachers for his fourth home run of the season, the first of his career as a pinch-hitter.
In the aftermath, he was neither celebratory nor apologetic.
"You feel bad because the guy has worked that hard to get that far, but we're all professionals and try to do our job," Randa said. "To be just two outs away is a tremendous compliment to him. We've been playing really good baseball, and he shut our offense down."
After a two-out walk to Jack Wilson, San Diego manager Bruce Bochy replaced Young with Cla Meredith for the final out.
Early on, Young was more lucky than effective. Wilson, Freddy Sanchez and Xavier Nady each screamed liners right at the San Diego defense, taking advantage of Young's initial inability to harness his breaking pitches.
Once he solved that, though, the Pirates did little. As was the case June 4 at PNC Park, where they lofted an endless string of lazy flyouts as he two-hit them through eight scoreless innings, his teasing, high fastball lured them into 17 outs by air.
"Early on, I left some balls up, and they happened to hit them to guys," Young said. "After that, I was able to find my space."
"He looks to work up in the zone, to get you to chase," Nady said. "And it's not too often you're facing a guy out there who's 6-10. It forces you to change your sights."
By now, those who follow Pirates closely can recite every painful aspect of the Chris Young tale, albeit through gritted teeth.Chris Park, Associated Press
The Pirates' Joe Randa, left, is congratulated by teammate Jack Wilson, right, after hitting a two-run home run off of San Diego Padres' Chris Young in the ninth inning last night at Petco Park in San Diego. The homer ended Young's chances of throwing a no-hitter, but the Padres won the game 6-2.
Click photo for larger image.
Matchup: Pirates (Zach Duke 10-13) vs. Padres (Jake Peavy 9-14), 10:05 p.m.
Where: Petco Park, San Diego, Calif.
Radio: KDKA-AM (1020) and Pirates Radio Network.
LAST GAME: Sanchez went 0 for 4 against the Padres.
Pirates.345 Miguel Cabrera, Marlins.339 Matt Holliday,
How Young, the team's third-round draft pick in 2000 under former general manager Cam Bonifay, was given a $1.5 million signing bonus when he considered converting to basketball.
How the current general manager, Dave Littlefield, traded him to the Montreal Expos in late 2002 for a reliever, Matt Herges.
And, of course, how the Pirates cut Herges in the following spring training even though he dominated Grapefruit League exhibitions.
Never mind that Herges continues to be a bullpen mainstay. The part that still stings is the loss of Young: He is 26-14 in his fledgling career, 11-5 this year with a 3.55 ERA while holding opponents to a .213 batting average.
Did Young have something to prove?
"I'm past it," he said of the Pirates. "It was a business decision. Best thing I can say is that it probably worked out for me better."
The Pirates' Tom Gorzelanny, making his second start since returning from elbow tendinitis, had no health complaints but clearly was unhappy with a five-inning line of three runs on five hits and two walks. The big blow was Adrian Gonzalez's two-run home run in the third that put San Diego up, 3-0.
"It's good to be back and healthy, but I want to be effective, too," Gorzelanny said. "I was kind of all over the place, not throwing the right pitches in the right situations, leaving balls up ... but I became a little more effective as the game went on."
Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .