Suns notes - Sneed has some good friends, really

August 09, 1998

If John Sneed suffered from low self-esteem, he might have become paranoid on Monday.

Every time he came to the Hagerstown Suns' dugout on Monday, teammates started giving him the silent treatment.

Every place the 6-foot-5 pitcher sat, his closest friends moved as far away from him as possible, short of crawling into the stands at Charleston, W.Va.'s Watt Powell Park.

Suddenly, Sneed was a loner. It's enough to shake one's confidence ... even a pitcher carrying a 13-2 record.

But Sneed didn't waste time checking his breath or doing a personal hygiene inventory. He just checked the scoreboard.

Sneed was in the middle of one of baseball's shining - and most superstitious - moments. He had pitched a no-hitter through eight innings against the Charleston Alley Cats.

"I walked across the dugout to get a drink and all the guys were talking," Sneed said. "Then I would come by and it got real quiet. Then, when Lorenzo Bagley was taken out of the game, I went over to shake his hand and tell him 'Good game.' He just grabbed my hand and walked away quickly without saying anything."


Baseball players go out of their way to make sure they aren't the one to jinx a teammate pitching a no-hitter. It's a long-standing superstition where players go out of their way not to mention the feat, just to avoid adding pressure to the situation.

Sneed didn't need any reminding, even though it was a new experience.

"I had two no-hitters in high school before, but they were only for seven innings," Sneed said. "I never had one going into the ninth before, not in pro ball, so this was something different. I was just trying to get out into the game and stay focused."

His focus is phenomenal. The only blemish to Sneed's game was a second-inning walk to Toby Sanchez, who was thrown out trying to steal.

So Sneed entered the ninth, retiring the Alley Cats in order in every inning, mostly on the strength of 13 strikeouts. Brandon O'Hearn ended the mystery quickly, hitting a hot shot off shortstop Cesar Izturis' glove for the first hit.

"I hung a 1-1 pitch and he hit it hard," Sneed said. "There was no doubt about it, it was a hit."

Charleston fans booed their own official scorer, pulling for the error to keep the no-hitter going.

With the no-hitter gone, at least teammates started talking to Sneed.

"I wanted the no-hitter more than anything," Sneed said. "I tried not to lose my focus after losing it. (First baseman) Greg Morrison came over to remind me that I still had a complete game, a shutout and a great game going. I couldn't let up. I still had a shutout to preserve."

Sneed got back in the flow by striking out his 14th and 15th batters of the game before allowing another single. Then, with the help of a sparkling play by second baseman Mike Young, Sneed got a grounder to end the game for a two-hit, 4-0 victory.

"I just felt great the whole game," Sneed said. "The first time through the lineup, I was getting them out with hard fastballs inside. That set it up for me to work away the rest of the game. I felt like I could throw any pitch on any count."

The only problem was, he couldn't tell anybody about it.

Improving on the best

It doesn't seem like it's possible, but the Toronto Blue Jays organization took a major step this week to strengthen the Suns' already strong pitching staff.

When Toronto dealt outfielder Tony Phillips to the New York Mets on July 31, Hagerstown suddenly had itself another top-notch starter in Leoncio Estrella from the Capital City Bombers. It was a move that put the Suns through a roster shuffle just 3 1/2 weeks short of the playoffs, but it also added depth to Hagerstown's starting five.

Estrella slides into the fourth spot in the rotation, behind Clayton Andrews, Sneed and Matt McClellan to replace the void created by the Isabel Giron's promotion to Double-A Knoxville. The move sent part-time starter Joe Casey to St. Catharines and put Woody Heath back in the relief role, working primarily whenever Joe Young starts.

"It's a shakeup, but not a huge one," Suns manager Marty Pevey said. "Woody knows what his role will be. He understands that when Joe was sent here, he was here to start because he wasn't getting many innings in Knoxville. And there was no way we were taking Clayton, Sneed or McClellan out of the rotation. We got Estrella and he's here to pitch, too. Since Joe has been so inactive, we don't know how effective he'll be. We hope he gives five innings and then we can bring Woody in to finish out the game."

Heath assumed his role after starting July 30's suspended game Saturday night at Cape Fear. That game was suspended by rain at Municipal Stadium with a runner on first and two outs in the bottom of the fifth in a 2-2 tie.

Pevey may be the main reason why Estrella came to Toronto. The Suns manager remembered the 2-1, five-hit victory Estrella fired at Hagerstown on July 25.

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