With the bases loaded, two outs and the score 0-0 in the bottom of the ninth, Henderson Alvarez stood in the Miami Marlins' on-deck circle, bat in hand, hoping to complete his no-hitter.
Alvarez had blanked the Detroit Tigers for nine innings — and briefly, mistakenly thought he had pitched a no-hitter. But the Marlins needed a run for him to achieve the feat.
“I was nervous and anxious,” he said through a translator. “I started praying, 'Please give us a run.' I was hoping for a wild pitch.”
That's exactly how Miami scored. Giancarlo Stanton crossed the plate standing up when a breaking ball skipped to the backstop, and Alvarez had his no-hitter, beating the Tigers on the final day of the regular season Sunday, 1-0.
Alvarez — who had been due to hit next — took off his batting helmet and began to celebrate with teammates in the on-deck circle while still wearing his batting gloves. When the happy hopping scrum finally broke up, pitcher Jose Fernandez came away holding Alvarez's uniform top.
“They were pulling on my jersey and choking me, so I took it off,” Alvarez explained.
Later, the 23-year-old Venezuelan went into the stands to hug his pregnant wife and kiss her belly.
Of the 282 no-hitters in history, it was the only one to end on a wild pitch, STATS said. And it was the first walk-off complete-game no-hitter since Virgil Trucks of the Tigers threw one on May 15, 1952 against Washington.
“That's the beauty of baseball,” Marlins manager Mike Redmond said. “You never know what you're going to see. On the last day of the season, what a treat.”
Alvarez needed the run for his no-hitter to be official, because a Major League Baseball ruling in 1991 said only complete games of nine or more innings with no hits count as no-hitters.
Alvarez got it when Luke Putkonen's first pitch to pinch-hitter Greg Dobbs was low and inside, eluding catcher Brayan Pena.
Alvarez (5-6) struck out four, walked one and hit a batter against a patchwork Tigers lineup on the last day of the season. When he closed out the top of the ninth, he pumped one fist and then both, thinking the game was over.
He remained confused until he got to the dugout and a teammate explained the situation to him.
“With the emotion and nerves, I didn't realize we hadn't scored a run yet,” a sheepish Alvarez said. “At the time I thought the game was 1-0. I threw my hands up and thought the game was over.”
Redmond said he would have sent Alvarez out to pitch the 10th inning, but that wasn't necessary.
The right-hander capped a dismal season for the Marlins, who had the worst record in the NL at 62-100. He pitched the third no-hitter this year, joining Homer Bailey of Cincinnati and Tim Lincecum of San Francisco.
It was the fourth season-ending no-hitter ever, and first since Mike Witt of the Angels threw a perfect game at Texas in 1984. In 1975, Vida Blue and three Oakland relievers combined to no-hit the Angels and in 1892, Bumpus Jones of Cincinnati did it against Pittsburgh, STATS said.
With the Tigers' playoff slot settled, they rested four starters and had pulled three others by the seventh inning. Miguel Cabrera, who won his third consecutive batting title, never stepped to the plate.
The Tigers' postseason assignment was determined before the weekend, and they'll start a division series at Oakland on Friday. Prior to the game, Tigers manager Jim Leyland acknowledged he and his players were already thinking ahead.
“I want to play this game, I want to win this game, but I want to get this over with and get home,” Leyland said. “Guys are anxious. They want to get to the postseason.”
Alvarez made the Tigers' eagerness work to his advantage.
“He had a lot of movement, and he fed off the fact they were swinging aggressively,” Redmond said.
Twice the Tigers were robbed of hits by fine defensive plays, including Alvarez's leaping snare of Don Kelly's one-hopper before he threw to first for the second out in the ninth.
Alvarez struck out Matt Tuiasosopo on a 3-2 pitch — his 99th — to end the top of the ninth. Then he needed the help from the Marlins' offense, which is last in the majors in runs.
Stanton singled with one out in the bottom of the ninth against Putkonen (1-3) and took second on a single by Logan Morrison. Both runners advanced on a wild pitch, and they held as Adeiny Hechavarria grounded out to the shortstop.
After Chris Coghlan walked to load the bases, Putkonen's first pitch to Dobbs got away. Stanton scored standing up with his arms raised, and the Marlins mobbed Alvarez.
At last it was official: Alvarez had his no-hitter, the fifth in Marlins' history, and his first since grade school.
Baseball appointed an eight-man committee on statistical accuracy in 1991 that defined no-hitters. That dropped 50 disputed games from the no-hit list.
Alvarez, acquired by the Marlins in a blockbuster trade with Toronto last November, was on the disabled list until early July with right shoulder inflammation. His only previous complete game was May 4, 2012, a six-hit shutout for the Blue Jays against the Angels. He hadn't pitched more than 7 1-3 innings this season, and the no-hitter came in his 58th career start.
The Tigers came close to a hit several times. Shortstop Hechavarria caught Ramon Santiago's liner in the third with an acrobatic leap. Detroit pitcher Justin Verlander, who is 0 for 27 lifetime, hit a drive to right field that landed foul by a couple of feet in the sixth inning.
“You need to have a little luck to throw a no-hitter,” Redmond said, “and we definitely had that today.”
Alvarez hit Prince Fielder in the back with a breaking pitch with two out in the first inning, then retired 12 batters in a row before Jose Iglesias reached on an error by Hechavarria in the fifth.
Alvarez retired another 12 in a row before he walked Andy Dirks on four pitches with two out in the ninth.
Verlander struck out 10 in six scoreless innings in his final tuneup for the playoffs. The Tigers right-hander allowed only three hits — but three more than Alvarez.
“He threw a heck of a ballgame,” Verlander said. “To do something like that is pretty impressive.”
The previous pitcher to throw a no-hitter in the Marlins' 21-year history was Anibal Sanchez — now with the Tigers — who did it in 2006 against Arizona. Sanchez watched from the visitors' dugout as his fellow Venezuelan celebrated the feat.
“It was great to be a part of such an exciting moment for this guy,” Sanchez said. “He threw a great game, and I'm really excited he did that.”
The last time the Tigers were no-hit was July 26, 2010, when Tampa Bay's Matt Garza beat them 5-0.
“I knew I was pitching a no-hitter early in the game, that it was a gem,” Alvarez said. “I really wanted to finish it.”
NOTES: Marlins 2B Donovan Solano was held out of the lineup but said he felt fine less than 24 hours after being hit in the helmet by a 95 mph fastball. … Tigers pitchers had 13 strikeouts Sunday and finished with 1,428 this season, a major league record. … The crowd of 28,315 pushed Miami's final attendance total to 1,586,322. Playing in a ballpark that opened last year, they had the second-worst average attendance in the majors, ahead of only Tampa Bay.