READING, Pa. — A couple of days before their opener Thursday night, Portland Sea Dogs Manager Billy McMillon pulled out the lineup card from last July 17, when he and Henry Owens wore Salem Red Sox uniforms.
He showed it to Owens and the young left-hander got the message.
Just nine months after he pitched the first six innings of a combined no-hitter, Owens repeated his feat, throwing six no-hit innings in a 5-0 victory against the Reading Fightin Phils at FirstEnergy Stadium.
Moments after he walked off the mound after the last of his nine strikeouts, the Reading grounds crew covered the rain-soaked field with the tarp.
Thirty minutes later it was official: Owens became the first Sea Dogs pitcher to complete a no-hitter.
“It was only six innings so it was kind of a cheap one,” said Owens, “but it feels good. I was ready to get out of Florida and get the season started and get after it again. It was good to set the tone.”
Actually, Mookie Betts set the tone, opening the game with a homer off Jesse Biddle of Reading, the top-ranked pitcher in the Philadelphia Phillies’ organization.
Betts had an incredible Double-A debut, finishing 4 for 4 with three runs and a great defensive play.
Still, he was overshadowed by Owens, who, after a pair of first-inning walks, was perfect. He retired the final 16 batters he faced and struck out the final two.
“Incredible night,” said McMillon, who won his 300th game as a manager and first at Double-A.
Owens was backed by a pair of defensive gems, from third baseman Sean Coyle and one by Betts, who drifted back into shallow center and made a leaping stab to take a hit from Carlos Alonso in the sixth.
“It was crazy,” said Owens. “Coyle was making plays, (shortstop Deven) Marrero made a play up the middle, Mookie made that diving play. It was awesome.”
It was the first no-hitter against Reading since 2003, and Phillies Manager Dusty Wathan and his players were certainly impressed.
“Henry Owens threw a good ballgame tonight, I’ll tell you that,” said Wathan. “He’s got an outstanding change-up. Did what he’s supposed to do. He threw the ball very good in tough conditions. I give them credit. They jumped on us early and Henry took over, pretty much.”
“He had the change going on,” said Reading catcher Tommy Joseph. “That’s what made his fastball look so fast. It was hard for us to barrel up some balls.”
Owens pitched in a steady, game-long rain that got harder in the later innings. He barely flinched, maintaining his concentration throughout.
“I felt my fastball command was really good and I could utilize my change-up off my fastball,” he said. “Didn’t have to use my curveball until late in the third inning
“Once I got into a rhythm, it was probably the second inning when the rain slowed down and the mound got a little dryer.”
Owens was the Red Sox minor league pitcher of the year in 2013, splitting his season between Salem and Portland. His 2.67 ERA was the lowest of any pitcher in the minor leagues and his batting average against of .177 was the lowest.
Owens took a 2-0 lead to the mound after Betts’ homer and a two-out RBI single by Henry Ramos in the first.
Blake Swihart’s RBI double made it 3-0 in the third.
Deven Marrero had RBI doubles in the fourth and sixth to stretch the lead to 5-0.
The no-hitter was the third in Sea Dogs history. Brad Penny, in 1999, teamed with Luis Arroyo for a 3-0 win over Trenton, and Josh Beckett, in 2001, combined with Brandon Bowe and Aaron Scheffer in a 5-0 win over Binghamton.
NOTES: Owens would not have come out for the seventh inning had the game not been halted. He threw 86 pitches, 59 for strikes. â€¦ Marrero, Ramos and Swihart each had two hits for the Sea Dogs.