Nolasco's '09 finale nearly set record
Marlins righty fanned 16 Braves, including nine in a row
MIAMI -- For a finale, Ricky Nolasco certainly went out in style.
For that matter, the Marlins' 26-year-old right-hander nearly turned in a performance for the ages.
Facing the Braves in his last start on Sept. 30, Nolasco set a franchise record with 16 strikeouts, and he nearly matched an all-time Major League mark.
From the third through the fifth innings, Nolasco strung together nine consecutive strikeouts -- yes, nine -- and fell one shy of Tom Seaver's record.
In 1970, Seaver fanned 10 straight, a standard that has rarely been challenged since. In fact, just four players (Seaver included) in the history of the game have reached as many as nine. Jake Peavy (2007) and Mickey Welch (1884) also had nine.
As dominant as Nolasco was in Atlanta, the game became a nailbiter, with the Marlins holding on for a 5-4 victory at Turner Field. Nolasco worked 7 2/3 innings, giving up two unearned runs.
Nolasco's gem was the single most impressive performance by a Marlins pitcher in 2009. Considering it occurred in Game 159, and right after the club was eliminated from postseason contention, it was an outing that was buried among teams who were playing out the string.
For Nolasco to be that overpowering against a good contact-hitting team meant everything fell into place that night in Atlanta.
Mark Wiley, Florida's pitching coach in 2009 who now is a special assistant with the organization, said Nolasco was dialed in that evening.
"When someone is that good, it's a rare occurrence because everything has to be right," Wiley said. "Your strength has got to be right. Your delivery has got to be right. You've got to be facing the right team. It's just a combination of the right things, where you can do something special like that."
After recording three strikeouts through two innings, Nolasco fanned the sides in order in the third, fourth and fifth innings. The string ended where it started. Adam LaRoche, who struck out to open the third, started off the sixth by turning on a 1-0 changeup and lining a double to right field.
Prior to Nolasco's 16 strikeouts, the team record was 14, set twice by A.J. Burnett. And the 16 whiffs are the most in the big leagues since Johan Santana struck out 17 Rangers, while with the Twins in 2007.
Nolasco's nine straight K's were sandwiched between a couple of Atlanta hits. With two outs in the second, Yunel Escobar singled, but with LaRoche at the plate, Escobar was caught trying to steal second by Ronny Paulino.
In the third, Nolasco sent down LaRoche, Matt Diaz and Javier Vazquez. In the fourth, Nate McLouth, Martin Prado and Chipper Jones were retired swinging. In the fifth, Brian McCann, Garret Anderson and Escobar each swung through third strikes.
"First of all, his rhythm was unbelievable," Wiley said. "His delivery, he was repeating it extremely well. It allowed him to throw that breaking ball that he has. He has a breaking ball strikeout pitch -- that "slider/slurve" or whatever you want to call it. It's sharp and it breaks with a down angle to it.
"It was one of those days where the angle that he was throwing at, the hitters were having a hard time picking up the pitch. It was like all the pitches were looking like fastballs. They were coming down the same fastball angle, and then the bottom dropped out of them."
The irony of the evening for Nolasco was, historically, he's struggled with the Braves. Entering the game, he was 2-4 with a 5.02 ERA lifetime against Atlanta.
"Of the other 29 teams, the Braves are the last team I'd ever think I'd do this against," Nolasco said after his brush with history.
In 11 prior starts against the Braves, he never struck out more than seven.
During his nine-strikeout stretch, Nolasco threw 42 pitches, 31 for strikes. The only time the count reached three balls was to McLouth, in the fourth. Rebounding, Nolasco won the eight-pitch showdown, striking out the Braves center fielder with a full-count slider.
Florida's previous record was seven in a row, set by Jesus Sanchez on Sept. 13, 1998, also at Atlanta.
"That's pretty impressive," Marlins veteran Wes Helms said of Nolasco. "You don't see that happen in the big leagues. Somebody usually puts the ball in play. That's some streak right there."
Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.