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Perfectly calm

Hensley takes his gem in stride

Hensley takes his gem in stride

May 05, 2003|by DAN KAUFFMAN

kauffman@herald-mail.com

One day after pitching the first no-hitter and perfect game in the 23-year history of the Hagerstown Suns, Clay Hensley still found it all quite difficult to believe Sunday.

"It didn't hit me until my teammates started running at me, and that's when I started to celebrate," said Hensley, who retired all 21 Kannapolis Intimidators he faced in a seven-inning, 2-0 victory Saturday night at Municipal Stadium. "I'm not sure it's even hit me yet."

The 23-year-old right-hander from Pearland, Texas, spent most of his Saturday night making and receiving calls to and from his parents, relatives, former teammates and his agent.

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"(The word) spread like a wildfire," Hensley said.

So, too, has his baseball life, which didn't exist three years ago.

Hensley was "an average center fielder" at Pearland High School, where he graduated in 1997. He said he only pitched in mop-up duty.

He attended San Jacinto Junior College in the fall of '97 and Alvin Community College in the spring on '98, before leaving school and organized baseball.

"Two-and-a-half or three years ago, if you had told me I'd be here, I would have laughed at you," Hensley said. "But I always felt I could play ball."

It wasn't until pitching in a summer league in Houston two years ago that Hensley rediscovered his passion for baseball and rededicated himself to the game. With a fastball maxing out in the low-90s, Hensley was offered a scholarship to play at Lamar University.

"I wasn't playing, and then I got the opportunity to get a scholarship to play, and I decided, why not?" Hensley recalls. "It's all turned into this. It's kind of surreal."

After just one season at Lamar, Hensley was selected in the eighth round of the 2002 amateur draft by the San Francisco Giants. After signing, Hensley was assigned to Salem-Keizer, a short-season Class A team.

"There was an adjustment between college and professional ball," Hensley said. "In college, I could get away with throwing a fastball and just blowing it by people. In the pros, they'll eventually catch up to your stuff. I had to learn how to pitch, make them hit my pitch and make them hit ground balls."

It didn't take long for Hensley to adjust. He went 7-0 with an earned run average of 2.53 for Salem-Keizer, striking out 84 in 81 2/3 innings.

It took longer for Hensley to make his presence felt in Hagerstown. In his five starts prior to Saturday, he was 0-1 with a 3.60 ERA.

But on Saturday, Hensley felt something special happening early on.

"I knew when warming up my command and location was there," Hensley said. "I felt really smooth, really in control of my body and delivery. I felt I could throw the ball anywhere I wanted."

Hensley proceeded to strike out 10, and retired the other 11 Intimidators on ground balls.

The only scares came in the third inning, when second baseman Derin McMains made a sliding snare of Jonathan Cavin's grounder up the middle and barely beat him with the throw, and at the start of the seventh, when third baseman Kevin Alexander made a leaping grab of Anthony Webster's chopper down the line and threw him out.

Hensley retired the final two hitters on routine ground balls, setting off a wild celebration on the infield.

"He's got a pretty high ceiling," Suns manager Mike Ramsey said. "He throws hard and he has control of three pitches. Last night, he put it all together.

"That's as good as I've seen a young man pitch at this level. (Someday) he could be in the bullpen of a major league team."

Hensley (1-1) became the second minor leaguer this season to pitch a perfect game. John Wasdin was perfect for the Nashville Sounds, a Triple-A affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates, on April 7.

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