Gomez's perfection tops best of '09
Richard, Chirinos, Bianucci, Rasmus also turn in huge efforts
It wasn't easy to select just one outstanding outing from an entire season of highlights but somehow we managed to do so.
We sit back and watch the film roll -- in our minds, at least -- on a selection of remarkable individual performances. How do you choose between a masterful pitching performance and an amazing night at the plate? Between a gripping drama or a hilarious comedy? Between a crunchy apple or a juicy orange?
Somehow the committee came to a decision (and we, like the Oscar committee, shall remain anonymous) and from a list of deserving candidates, the awards go to:
Perfect game -- May 21
On May 21, in just his fourth start for the Aeros, Gomez tossed the first perfect game in team history, a 3-0 victory over the host Trenton Thunder (Yankees).
The 21-year-old Venezuelan opened the 2009 season at Class A Advanced Kinston, and after stringing together 13 innings over his final two starts without allowing an earned run, he was promoted to Akron on April 30. There he yielded just one earned run in his first four starts -- with that last start, obviously, the gem. All told, he enjoyed a skein of 42 innings in April and May in which he gave up one earned run.
Striking out eight in the perfect game, Gomez lowered his Eastern League ERA to 0.31. And while he never matched that outing -- it was his lone complete game of the season -- he finished 10-4 with a 3.43 ERA, striking out 109 batters in 123 1/3 innings and earning Eastern League Pitcher of the Year honors as well as a coveted spot on the Indians' 40-man roster.
Gomez was a key cog in an Akron team that finished 89-53, won the Eastern League championship and was named MLB.com's Double-A Team of the Year.
Aeros manager Mike Sarbaugh, who will move up to helm Triple-A Columbus in 2010, points to Gomez's game as the highlight of his team's regular season.
"I guess it always goes back to Jeanmar's perfect game," said Sarbaugh. "How he kept getting better in every start early on and the way we had two diving plays in that game that helped him get it."
One of those plays came in the ninth inning, when leadoff hitter Kevin Smith hit a blooper to left field.
"Right off the bat, I was sure it was going to fall in," Gomez told MLB.com, but left fielder Matt McBride kept the perfect game intact by robbing Smith with a diving catch.
"He came in out of nowhere and caught it," he added. "That was exciting, but I had to be sure to stay in control of my emotions."
The final out of that game -- the first perfect game in the Minors in nearly two years -- was a routine out: a fly ball by Justin Snyder to McBride once again.
"It was such an unbelievable thing," said Aeros catcher Damaso Espino. "Everyone was jumping on top of each other screaming and [Gomez] is at the bottom of the pile with tears in his eyes, loving every minute of it."
Two grand slams -- May 15
Chris Richard has had some pretty big highlights in a pro career that dates back to 1995.
Homering off the first big league pitch he saw in July 2000 certainly ranks right up there. So does a two-homer six-RBI game he enjoyed in the Majors later that summer.
But on May 15, Richard added another "not to be forgotten" day to his resume as he hit a pair of grand slams, including a walk-off shot in the 11th inning, to give his Bulls a 13-9 victory over Louisville (Reds).
Richard would be a big factor in the Bulls' eventual Triple-A championship, but his record-tying night was certainly a highlight.
"The big leagues are a little bit different, but this is going to be right up there at the top," Richard said.
Richard was the fifth player in International League history to achieve the feat and one of two Minor Leaguers to do so in 2009 (Advanced A Daytona's Robinson Chirinos was the other and earns the Class A MiLBY for that effort).
Richard's first blast came in the eighth with his team down by five runs. His slam to right field began the team's big comeback.
The game-winner would come on a shot to straight center.
"I was kind of surprised the ball carried out," said Richard. "I thought it was just going to be enough to get over the center fielder's head. It carried pretty well."
For the 34-year-old the experience was a thrill, a chance to help rally his team when then Bulls needed him most.
"It's an unbelievable feeling," Richard said. "You're just excited. It's a lot of joy. It's just a great time."
Two grand slams -- May 31
The 25-year-old Venezuelan native, fresh off the disabled list with a wrist injury, powered Daytona to an 11-3 win over Sarasota on May 31 with a pair of grand slams -- just the second time the feat has been achieved in the Florida State League and the first time since 1959.
On the season, Chirinos hit .300 with 11 homers and 47 RBIs for the Cubs in 69 games. He had signed with the Cubs in 2000 as a non-drafted free agent.
"This is the biggest moment in my career," Chirinos told MiLB.com. "I'm just going to enjoy it right now."
6-for-6, seven RBIs -- April 17
The 22-year-old outfielder came into Hickory's April 17 game against Asheville hitting .261. He left it hitting .414 after going 6-for-6 with two homers and seven RBIs to pace the 16-6 rout. Bianucci, an Auburn product, went on to hit .331 with 15 homers and 49 RBIs in 72 games before being promoted to Class A Advanced Bakersfield.
"It's hard not to say I'm really happy with the game I had," Bianucci told MiLB.com. "I guess I'll kind of keep it to myself."
The six hits fell one shy of the South Atlantic League record set in 1986 by Sumter's Alex Smith. The game also marked Bianucci's first professional multi-homer outing.
No-hitter -- Aug. 11
The 21-year-old brother of St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Colby Rasmus had missed a lot of time since being picked in the supplemental first round of the 2006 Draft, with shoulder surgery costing him all of 2007 and most of 2008. But he showed his stuff Aug. 11 as he no-hit Princeton, 13-0, in the seven-inning nightcap of a doubleheader.
It was his first victory since June 25, an eight-game span in which he saw time both as starter and reliever.
Rasmus, who walked one and struck out nine, went on to win three of his last four starts. In his next outing on Aug. 16, he tossed another five innings of no-hit ball.
"I knew what was going on. Everybody knew," Rasmus told MiLB.com, adding he mostly found himself alone in the dugout between innings. "It's just baseball code."
Lisa Winston is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.