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T.J. Zeuch Makes History

By: Brian Frank

Throughout Bisons history, which dates back to 1877, there have been 15 instances where a pitcher threw a nine-inning no-hitter and won the game. Fourteen different pitchers have accomplished this feat, with Baseball Hall of Famer Pud Galvin having done it twice. On August 19, 2019, T.J. Zeuch joined this exclusive club.

Zeuch, a 6’7”, 24-year-old right-hander, took the mound for the Herd in the first game of a four game series against the Rochester Red Wings, who were leading the International League in batting average at the time. The four game series in Rochester was crucial to both teams’ playoff hopes. Buffalo was tied for second with Syracuse, two games behind Scranton-Wilkes Barre, with Rochester just a game behind the Herd and Mets in a tight International League North.

T.J. Zeuch. Photo Credit: Brian M. Frank, The Herd Chronicles.

Zeuch’s batterymate, Beau Taylor was catching just his second game with Buffalo after being picked up on a waiver claim from Oakland. The chemistry between Zeuch and Taylor would play a key part in the history that was about to unfold. Since he’d only been on the team a few days, Taylor had never even caught a bullpen session with Zeuch before, but the two meshed instantly. “It was actually pretty fun from the beginning,” Taylor said. He noticed that Zeuch had good movement on his two-seam fastball early on. “I noticed that in the bullpen. Then I started noticing that all his off-speed (pitches) he was throwing them for strikes. That’s one of the biggest things, one of the challenges of catching a new pitcher, is trying to figure out what their strength is. His strength is of course a two-seam and then his slider. His slider was actually working really well that night. His changeup too and his curveball.”

Zeuch started the game by getting Rochester’s leadoff batter, Ian Miller, on a fly ball to left field. Drew Maggi then hit a bullet up the middle that went off Zeuch’s glove, but ricocheted to shortstop Santiago Espinal, who threw to first for the out. Zeuch continued to set down the Red Wings in order, until he walked Mike Miller on a 3-2 count with two outs in the third inning, one of only two Rochester baserunners the entire game.

As the game continued, it became obvious Zeuch had a good rapport with his new catcher. Taylor recounted that he was meeting with Zeuch between innings and “looking at the hitters that were coming up the next inning and what we were going to throw. We had a good idea what we were going to throw these guys.”

Bisons manager Bobby Meacham said, “It was a really good combination for us right there to see those two working hand in hand. Sometimes Zeuch will shake off but typically he didn’t shake off much there. You could tell they had something good going.”

Taylor said Zeuch only shook him off twice the entire game and noted, “We were on the same page the entire day.” Zeuch acknowledged Taylor’s performance in a press conference the next day saying, “I think he did a tremendous job calling the game, really learning on the fly what my stuff moves like. How it played with certain hitters, how I like to throw things in certain counts.” He added, “There were times I thought I want to throw this pitch and I would look up for the sign and that was exactly what he’d call.”

Beau Taylor. Photo Credit: Brian M. Frank, The Herd Chronicles.

Buffalo didn’t get their first hit off Rochester starter Griffin Jax until Jonathan Davis led off the fourth inning by grounding a single up the middle. He stole second, where he remained when the inning ended. The Bisons finally broke through on the scoreboard in the fifth inning, when Santiago Espinal cashed in Patrick Kivlehan with an RBI single.

As the game entered the later innings, players started to become aware that history might be taking place. Jonathan Davis said he noticed the Red Wings didn’t have a hit yet at the end of the sixth inning. “We were running off the field and Ro (Bisons outfielder Roemon Fields) came up to me and we were probably about 10 steps from the dugout and he was like ‘Dude, he’s dealing.’ And I was like ‘Yeah he is.’ So, around about the sixth inning we were kind of like, man he could do it and I think around that time he had 80 something pitches, so you kind of got in the mindset that he could go the whole way.”

Beau Taylor also became aware of the magic happening in the sixth inning. “I just had an at-bat and I came in and I’m putting my gear on,” Taylor said, “and I looked at the scoreboard and thought I haven’t had to throw the ball to second and I haven’t had to call any picks or anything, and I was like oh, they have no hits. Oh, this is awesome!”

Bobby Meacham said he noticed Rochester didn’t have any hits much earlier. “Probably the second inning I thought okay they haven’t got a hit yet and as time went on you could see how good he was pitching.”

Although Buffalo players realized what was happening, they didn’t speak about it with each other. Jonathan Davis said that the feeling in the dugout was “don’t say anything about it, don’t even mention it, don’t even make faces resembling that this might be going on.”

Zeuch’s bread and butter pitch is his two-seam fastball, which acts like a sinker. “Some guys think they throw one (a sinker) and it kind of goes down,” Meacham explained, “but Zeuch has a true sinker. He may call it a two-seamer, but whatever he calls it, it goes down. So they’re going to hit the top of the ball a lot and he’s going to get a lot of grounders.”

Zeuch throwing a two-seam fastball. Photo Credit: Brian M. Frank, The Herd Chronicles.

On this occasion, all four of Zeuch’s pitches were working, his two-seamer, curveball, slider, and changeup. Meacham noticed early on that Zeuch’s curveball had more bite than usual. “We were like, man that’s a nasty breaking ball right there,” he said. “Even if it was a ball or if the guy didn’t swing at it. It was really sharp, the break was sharp on it. We noticed that right away.”

The dominance of Zeuch’s curve was particularly evident in one sequence in the seventh inning. Ramon Flores, a left-handed batter and one of Rochester’s best hitters, was at the plate. Zeuch’s first pitch to Flores was a curve that he took for a called strike. Taylor noticed Flores “had a bad take” on the pitch, so he called for another curveball, which Flores took for another strike. Taylor said he thought “I’m not even going to mess around. We don’t even need to throw a fastball. Let’s throw another one a little bit lower and slower, hit it on top of the plate. And it was perfect.” Flores once again took Zeuch’s third consecutive curveball for a called third strike.

After seven innings, Zeuch had thrown 92 pitches, just nine below his season high of 103. About that time, Bobby Meacham looked at pitching coach Doug Mathis and asked if the pitch count on the scoreboard was correct. According to Meacham, Mathis responded without breaking the code and mentioning the no-hitter, by saying “Yeah it’s right,’ and then adding, “I know what we got here.”

Meacham continued to check the pitch count on the scoreboard. “We always talk about it (the pitch count) before the game and we knew the game before that he threw 101 or 102 pitches," Meacham said. "And I think he did one other game. So we knew that wasn’t necessarily a limit, but that was something to kind of base it off. I figured if he was right around there when we had one inning to go, just send him out there and either hope he puts them away quickly or somebody gets a hit right away.” He added “Basically it was all up to him to keep his pitch count down to give himself a shot at it and give him a chance to go out in the ninth and do it.”

T.J. Zeuch. Photo Credit: Brian M. Frank, The Herd Chronicles.

In the top of the eighth, the Bisons scored two runs on an Andy Burns RBI single and a Beau Taylor sacrifice fly to take a 3-0 lead. The fact that Rochester made a mid-inning pitching change and Buffalo sent seven batters to the plate caused Zeuch to have a long wait in the dugout.

When Zeuch came back out for the bottom of the eighth, Meacham had Bryan Baker warming in the bullpen just in case Rochester got a hit. Meacham was obviously hoping for the no-hitter, but he was also concerned with winning the game and continuing the Bisons playoff push. But Zeuch had a very efficient inning, needing only nine pitches to retire the Red Wings on a strikeout, a hit batter, and two fly outs. The nine-pitch inning meant he’d made it through eight innings with 101 pitches and earned himself a shot at finishing what he started.

Zeuch retired the first batter of the ninth inning, Mike Miller, on a routine groundball to third baseman Patrick Kivlehan. The next batter was Rochester’s speedy leadoff hitter Ian Miller. Beau Taylor put down two fingers for Zeuch to throw a first pitch curveball, but, as Taylor tells it: “I wanted a back-door curveball and I know the lighting wasn’t the best. I might have went a little bit too quick to come this way (he motioned quickly with his two fingers to show location) and he saw one finger. So, I thought it was a curveball and then I see it and I thought okay, he spiked it. But it wasn’t, it was just a straight fastball and it got my hand.” Taylor immediately crumpled over in pain clutching his wrist. Meacham and trainer Bob Tarpey came out to examine the injury. “I thought I broke it,” Taylor said. “And I was like, but I’m catching a no-hitter, there’s no way someone is coming in here and taking this from me right now.” Tarpey had Taylor squeeze his hand to test his strength. “It was like during the moment and all that adrenaline was pumping through you, especially in the ninth inning,” Taylor said. “You know what’s on the line, and I was like, yeah, I’m not coming out of this game.” Zeuch later joked about the play, saying, “That was my fault. I obviously apologized to him and he said the ending made up for it.” Taylor remained in the game.

Before Miller had come up to bat, center fielder Jonathan Davis said he was “thinking to myself where do I want to play? I knew we had two outs to go and of course I wanted him to accomplish the feat. I thought to myself, should I play back and if he gets a hit let it be a blooper? Or should I play in and if he got a hit let him drive the ball over my head, and I thought to myself, why not just play regular and go get the ball wherever it is, and trust myself. So I told myself that if it’s in any area where I can dive, I’m diving. He’s gonna either triple or I’m going to catch it.”

Jonathan Davis can catch anything. Photo Credit: Brian M. Frank, The Herd Chronicles.

Four pitches after the one that injured Taylor, Ian Miller lined a ball to center field. Bobby Meacham recalled: “I thought right away, I don’t know if I said it out loud in the dugout or in my mind, but it was just like oh no, oh man, there’s the hit. But it kind of hung up there for just a hair. And in my mind, or maybe out loud I said go for it! So when he took another step and dove for it, it was… it was a great catch.”

For a brief moment, T.J. Zeuch also thought his no-hitter had come to an end. “Off the bat initially I thought it was going to drop unfortunately,” Zeuch said. “But then I turned around and I saw it still up there and I saw J.D.’s eyes kind of light up and he started sprinting in, and I knew right then he was going to catch it.”

Davis had charged in and dove headlong to make an amazing catch to save the no-hitter. When asked what was going through his head as the ball came off the bat, Davis replied “Nothing was going through my head. I was just trying to go get the ball.”

As he rose to his feet with the ball in his glove, Davis rejoiced by pumping his fist in exhilaration. “It was just an exciting moment,” Davis remembered, “because most people know that with every no-hitter there’s usually a good play that’s made. The opposing manager (former Bisons catcher and manager Joel Skinner) came up to me the next day, and he said ‘Dude, when you made that catch everybody knew he was going to get the no-hitter.’ It was just one of those moments where I was so excited for him. That moment was bigger than me. Just being in that moment was unreal and I’m so excited for T.J.”

Zeuch beamed about his center fielder: “He makes unbelievable plays like that on a routine basis. Being able to watch him play center field, it’s been a blessing.”

Even though Beau Taylor was new to the team, he knew all about Davis and his penchant for making impossible catches possible from watching his regular appearances on ESPN’s SportsCenter Top 10 Plays of the Day. “I know a lot about Jonathan out there in center,” Taylor said. “So in the back of my head, I knew he was going to lay out. He was going to risk everything to catch this ball. And it was one of the most amazing catches I’ve ever seen.”

As Davis celebrated the catch in center, Taylor also had an emotional release behind the plate. “That was one of the craziest parts because I actually felt like I was more emotional for the catch than when the actual last out came," Taylor remembered. "Because right when he caught it I was freaking out. I was yelling. I was fist bumping everywhere. And then I was like okay, okay, settle down.”

There was still one more out to get. After Zeuch threw a ball for the first pitch to Drew Maggi, Taylor gave the sign for Zeuch’s best pitch, the two-seam fastball. Maggi hit a groundball back to Zeuch who fielded it and underhanded the ball to first baseman Jordan Patterson for the final out, as the celebration began. “It was a pretty fitting end,” Zeuch said. “A groundball guy gets a groundball back to him to finish it off. But I kind of went blank after I caught it. I think the only thought I had was don’t flip it over his head.”

Taylor told his reaction to the final out: “Two-seam came back, hit right back to him and then it was like I was in shock. I was like no way. I was yelling at Dan (Dan Merzel) the umpire ‘No way! No way!’” According to Taylor, Merzel responded saying, ‘That a boy Beau. That a boy.’

Zeuch and Taylor embraced as their teammates joined them in celebration. Zeuch had thrown 114 pitches in just two hours and 18 minutes. He’d induced 15 groundouts, largely due to his sinking two-seam fastball.

Zeuch and Taylor embrace after the final out. Courtesy of Joe Territo/Rochester Red Wings.

Zeuch became only the second Bisons pitcher to throw a no-hitter in the team's modern era, joining Bartolo Colon, who hurled his on June 20, 1997, against the New Orleans Zephyrs in Buffalo. It was only the third nine-inning no-hitter since 1952, when Dick Marlowe threw a perfect game against Baltimore. Incredibly, Zeuch’s masterpiece came just two days short of being exactly 110 years to the day of Buffalo’s last no-hitter against Rochester, when Rube Kisinger no-hit the Rochester Hustlers.

There have been 28 no-hitters in Bisons history, but only 15 of them have been at least nine-inning games that the Bisons ended up winning. Many of the no-hitters were scheduled seven-inning games as part of a doubleheader, one was called after seven due to rain, and one was called after seven so the teams could catch a train. Two games are recognized by the International League as being no-hitters because Buffalo’s hurler had a no-hitter through nine innings, however Buffalo eventually lost in extra innings. One man, James “Pud” Galvin, threw two nine-inning no-hitters back in the 1880s, during the team’s National League days.

Increased reliance on pitch counts in recent years, particularly in the minor leagues, figures to make complete-game nine-inning no-hitters even more uncommon. The rarity of the feat ensures that the images of Davis’s diving catch, Zeuch flipping the comebacker to first for the final out, and the celebration that followed are scenes that will remain etched in Bisons fans’ memories forever.

The scorebook of Pat Malacaro, the Voice of the Bisons, documenting the historic game. Courtesy of Pat Malacaro.

A History of Bisons No-Hitters:

Only 15 of the Bisons 28 no-hitters have been nine-inning no-hitters that Buffalo won.

August 20, 1880: James “Pud” Galvin (Buffalo 1, Worcester 0)

August 4, 1884: James “Pud” Galvin (Buffalo 18, Detroit 0)

May 8, 1899: Chummy Gray (Buffalo 1, Indianapolis 0)

April 19, 1900: Doc Amole (Buffalo 8, Detroit 0)

August 21, 1909: Rube Kisinger (Buffalo 5, Rochester 0)

August 9, 1910: Chet Carmichael (Buffalo 1, Jersey City 0) *Perfect Game

June, 25, 1911: Ad Brennan (Buffalo 1, Jersey City 0)

August 26, 1911: Ad Brennan (Jersey City 1, Buffalo 0) *No-hitter for 9 innings, gave up 2 hits and a run in 10th.

August 18, 1915: Fred Beebe (Buffalo 5, Montreal 0)

May14, 1919: Rip Jordan (Buffalo 3, Jersey City 0)

June 28, 1919: Rip Jordan (Toronto 3, Buffalo 0) *7 innings. Game called so teams could catch trains. Game was in Toronto, therefore Leafs didn’t bat in seventh since they were leading. So Jordan really only threw six no-hit innings.

August 8, 1919: Rosy Ryan (Buffalo 7, Reading 0) *7 innings

June 20, 1926: Walter Leverenz (Buffalo 7, Reading 0)

June 3, 1936: Bill Harris (Buffalo 2, Toronto 0) *Perfect Game, 7 innings

July 30, 1936: Bill Harris (Buffalo 4, Newark 0)

July 27, 1937: Ken Ash (Buffalo 2, Syracuse 0) *7 innings

May 31, 1941: Virgil Trucks (Montreal 1, Buffalo 0) *No-hitter for 9.2 innings Gave up 3 hits and a run in the 10th.

April 25, 1943: Rufe Gentry (Buffalo 1, Newark 0) *11 innings

August 17, 1949: Jim Wilson (Buffalo 5, Jersey City 0) *7 innings

August 6, 1950: Jake Wade (Buffalo 2, Syracuse 0) *7 innings. Game called due to rain.

July 22, 1951: Jim Simpson (Buffalo 3, Toronto 0) *7 innings

June 8, 1952: Wayne McLeland (Buffalo 4, Ottawa 0) *7 innings

August 15, 1952: Dick Marlowe (Buffalo 2, Baltimore 0) *Perfect Game

September 9, 1953: Frank Lary (Buffalo 5, Ottawa 0) *7 innings

August 27, 1982: Tim Wheeler, Ben Wiltbank, Craig Pippin (Buffalo 1, West Haven 0) *7 innings

June 7, 1983: Rich Doyle (Buffalo 6, Albany 1) *7 innings

June 20, 1997: Bartolo Colon (Buffalo 4, New Orleans 0)

August 19, 2019: T.J. Zeuch (Buffalo 3, Rochester 0)

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