‘I can’t believe it ended like that’: How one quirky play robbed Drew Smyly of chance at Cubs history
Drew Smyly flirted with perfection. He was on the cusp of history.
But baseball can be a cruel game and even when you’re flawless, the flukiest of things can rob you from the rarest of events.
Like David Peralta hitting a 32.9-mph cue shot down the third base line that stripped Smyly and the 30,381 fans at Wrigley Field from a chance at a perfect game.
It was a harsh way for Smyly to lose a perfecto. He had limited hard contact for 7 innings — no one had put a ball in play with an exit velocity over 90 mph, save for a trio of outs from Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez.
But it was the softest hit ball of the day that swiped his chances at the first perfect game in the 148-year history of the Chicago Cubs.
Peralta’s dribbler skidded down the grass on the third-base line and Smyly charged off the mound to try and collect his 22nd out in a row. His catcher Yan Gomes made a dash for the ball, too.
“You feel like you’re really close and executed a good pitch a good curveball,” Smyly said.
Smyly beat him in the race, fielding the ball cleanly, a chance at keeping the dream alive. It would have been a tough play — Peralta was bolting to first base, also knowing what was at stake for he and the Dodgers — but the strangest of circumstances snatched any shot at a throw to first baseman Trey Mancini.
Gomes collided with Smyly. The pair crashing and rolling over near the third base line and no throw ever being made — history gone in an instant.
“It’s an aggressive play. Both of us went after it. It just came to the point where both of us wanted it. He got to it before I did and I’m not as quick as I used to be trying to jump out of the way and I ended up riding him and becoming a cool picture,” a smiling Gomes said.
In the heat of the moment, instinct can take over.
“I thought it was going to be an easier play for me to make because Yan would have had to like, pick it up, spin and throw,” Smyly said. “For me, it would have just been like, grab it and then just fire it to first. Yan was saying ‘I got it, I got it.’ And I just went for it. I didn’t say anything — I guess it’s my fault. I should have been like, ‘No, no, no, I got it. I got it.’
“So, like I said, I think we both just really, really wanted to make the play. And it was just in the perfect space where we collided.”
For Smyly Friday didn’t start off any special — in fact his pregame was so sluggish that the battery noticed something wasn’t quite right.
“I actually had like the worst pregame bullpen that I can remember,” Smyly said. “I told Yan before the game, sometimes those can be your best games.”
Gomes brushed it off.
“I was like, ‘Yeah, yeah. Sure. whatever makes you go today,’” he said. “It came out to be one of his best outings.”
After the 3rd inning, Smyly had a small sense he could be onto something — and his stuff backed that up. He had struck out 6 batters in a row across the first 3 innings.
Once I went nine up, nine down, I was like, ‘Oh, man, I haven’t given up a hit yet – 4th inning,’” Smyly said. “I’m not thinking about the long-term I’m just thinking like, ‘Oh, I wonder how long I can go without giving up one.’”
He went another time through the Dodgers lineup, and they had no answer. He relied just on his fastball and knuckle curveball and that alone was enough to stymie them. It was more impressive given that Smyly and Gomes had just faced the Dodgers in Los Angeles 5 days earlier.
“Nothing against the Dodgers, but we had a simple, Drew Smyly-drawn-up game plan,” Gomes said. “So, the nervousness going into it wasn’t really there. It was just like, ‘Hey, we’re gonna throw your two best pitches that are happening today and hope for the best.’”
The best came to be.
Smyly’s mix caused so much trouble to the Dodgers, that even when things were seemingly going wrong, they went right.
In the 7th inning, the Wrigley Field crowd was loud and into the game. It was 13-0, but they knew was at stake — they knew history was knocking on the doorstep. As the top of the 7th was beginning, Gomes’ earpiece for his pitch com device fell off. He would press the buttons to call a pitch and Smyly could hear it, but Gomes had to trust he was pushing the right button, that the duo were on the same page.
With 2 outs in the inning and the crowd on their feet, Smyly began to have difficulty hearing his earpiece from the pitch com. Things got tricky with a 2-2 count against the 5-time All-Star and 3-time Silver Slugger Martinez and the pitch clock winding down.
Smyly didn’t want the clock to run out and face a 3-2 count against him, so he began his windup.
“I was like, ‘Throw the curveball,’” Gomes said. “He’s mouthing, ‘Curveball.’”
Gomes motioned his glove outwards, a sign during catch or warmups for a breaking ball, and Martinez flew out weakly to right field.
“That’s just kinda how today worked, man,” Gomes said. “He had his best pitch working.”
Their date with history, though, was spoiled by the weakest batted ball of the day. A tough ending, but an enthralling outing neither will forget anytime soon. There was no guarantee that they would’ve gotten Peralta out at first, nor that they would’ve gotten the next 5 outs needed to complete it, but it’s the beauty of the game. There’s no telling what could have been.
“I think we both just looked at each other like, ‘I can’t believe it ended like that,’” Smyly said. “It’s just a baseball play. Like, it happens. Sometimes you can hit a ball really hard right at somebody and sometimes you can do that, you know? So, it is what it is.”
At the end of the day, the Cubs had a blowout win after a tough loss on Thursday night and the Cubs’ battery chose to take solace in that. Both Smyly and Gomes opted to laugh off the play, with Gomes even wearing a football helmet in the clubhouse after the game because of the collision.
“That part’s disappointing, but I don’t think it takes away from from the game and, and just trying to continue to build on a good path,” Smyly said.