When Lawrence High left-hander Garrett Cleavinger recorded the final out of his 11-strikeout shutout in a 3-0 road victory against Olathe South on Thursday, April 5, he thought he had just completed a one-hitter.
As it turns out, Cleavinger was right. He did pitch a one-hitter. For a while, he and many others thought he had pitched a no-hitter.
LHS coach Brad Stoll called in the results of the game to the Journal-World and reported it as a no-hitter. He later said his reason for doing that was because in his opinion the one hit that showed on the scoreboard was an error on the shortstop.
But the home team keeps the official scorebook, and after I interviewed Cleavinger on Thursday to write about his feat and his future, I thought I had better place a call to Olathe South’s baseball coach, Josh Perkins, to see how the official scorebook had recorded the second-inning play in question.
“We called it a hit,” Perkins said. “It was kind of a little line drive hit off the end of the bat. The shortstop ran up on it. It bounced in front of him and ran off to the side. We called it a hit, and that’s where we went with it. I had heard you guys ran a story calling it a no-hitter, but we called it a hit. I was going to just leave it alone.”
Since he was called and interviewed about the play, Perkins had no choice but to answer honestly. That didn’t mean Cleavinger’s effort left the opposing coach with any less an impression of the lefty than if he had tossed a no-no.
“He threw a fantastic, phenomenal game,” Perkins said. “If it’s later in the game, fifth or sixth inning, we might have gone ahead and given it an error. But the defender didn’t make an error. It was a difficult play. It was up there all game as a hit. It’s not like we changed it to a hit.”
Cleavinger’s explanation of the play was similar to that of Perkins’ in that the senior pitcher said it had an unusual late spin to it.
The portion of the Major League Baseball rule book titled 10.05 Base Hits (3) states, in part, “the batter reaches first base safely on a fair ball that takes an unnatural bounce so that a fielder cannot handle it with ordinary effort ...”
Stoll’s version of the play: “They thought it was a hit, but it tipped off our shortstop’s glove. We saw it because it was right in front of our dugout.”
I first suspected there was a problem when I asked Cleavinger when he first started thinking about pitching a no-hitter.
“You know, I never really thought about it,” he said. “The whole game there was one on the board, so I figured there already was a hit. So it never really crossed my mind.”
He pitched the rest of the game without the pressure of a no-hitter mounting, and the fielders didn’t have that on their minds either.
Stoll presented him with the lineup card after the game and congratulated him on pitching a no-hitter.
“I was confused at first,” Cleavinger said, “because like I said, I hadn’t thought about it at all.”
I called Stoll on Saturday, one day after Cleavinger ran his record to 3-1, to let him know the official scorebook revealed Cleavinger had pitched a one-hitter and asked if I should call the lefty to let him know that.
“Nah, he’s not the kind of kid who’s going to care either way,” Stoll said. “We won the game. As long as the Lions are successful, that’s all he cares about.”
Stoll’s right about that. Watching Cleavinger play football and baseball and listening to how he conducts himself in interviews reveals him as a genuinely humble star athlete.
Cleavinger credits his instruction during four seasons in the LHS baseball program for having such a wide variety of pitches that includes a four-seam fastball, a sinker, a slider and a change-up. Throughout his career, the pitch calls have been relayed from the pitching coach to the catcher to him. He said without the coaches calling the pitches, he wouldn’t have thrown his secondary pitches as regularly, and they wouldn’t be as far along as they are.
He credits teammates with letting him know if he’s tipping pitches or pickoff moves.
And he expresses gratitude for being born left-handed, in part because lefties’ pitches for mysterious reasons have better movement.
“Being left-handed is a lot more rare, so it’s kind of a commodity,” he said. “Not as many guys are left-handed. And (lefty teammate) Cameron Solko and I know our ball tails so much more than the right-handers. I have no idea why, but it helps out a lot.”
Cleavinger said he also considered himself fortunate for playing on the KC Sluggers, coached by former major-league outfielder Brian McRae, the past two summers.
“Whenever we did something wrong or messed something up or short-changed ourselves, he was the first one to be right there telling us,” Cleavinger said. “Everything he did was to make us better men and better baseball players.”
Cleavinger signed in November a letter of intent to continue his education and baseball career at Oregon. To prepare for competing for a spot in the Ducks’ rotation as a freshman, Cleavinger will play for the Springfield, Mo.-based scout team known as the Midwest Nationals. The Nationals are coached by Dave Bingham, who guided Kansas University to its first and only College World Series in 1993.
“I decided to take the harder route to get me more prepared for the fall,” Cleavinger said. “We talked to (Bingham) when he came to the house to give us information about it. I liked him a lot and knew he was a good baseball guy.”
Chances are good Bingham will enjoy teaching Cleavinger, another good baseball guy.