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2021 Arizona Diamondbacks Reviews, #8: Tyler Gilbert

Can a legend be forged in a single performance? After what the Arizona Diamondbacks endured last season, perhaps so.

MLB: San Diego Padres at Arizona Diamondbacks Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
  • Rating: 5.78
  • Age: Turned 28 on December 22
  • 2021 Stats: No Hitter, 9 games pitched, 6 starts, 3.15 ERA, 40 IP, 1.2 bWAR, 136 ERA+
  • 2021 Earnings: league minimum
  • 2022 Status: 40-Man Roster, pre-arbitration until 2025, rookie status still intact

This player review is brought to you by Jim McLennan’s sterling 2021 Single-Game Performance of the Year article. And with that, you should go enjoy another video of NikT smoking some delicious meats. The end... Sarcasm aside, it is difficult to put more valuable keystrokes to computer screen than what Jim said earlier, but I will try my best.

Tyler Gilbert is a reminder that one can never truly know what the future holds in store. The coronavirus pandemic ended his 2020 season before it even began just like it did for all minor league players. Instead of toiling away in Oklahoma City for the Dodgers AAA affiliate, he worked with his father as an electrician to get by while keeping his arm in pitching shape on the side. The Arizona Diamondbacks selected him in the 2020 AAA Rule 5 draft from Los Angeles and stashed him away in Reno not anticipating the pitching dumpster fire that would take hold at the MLB level in 2021.

If the Diamondbacks were in the wild card hunt, there is an alternate universe where Tyler Gilbert might not make more than a couple relief or spot start appearances for the MLB club, if he is even called up at all. That isn’t meant as an insult to him by any means. His track record as a minor league pitcher in the Philadelphia Phillies’ farm system was solid. They drafted him in 2015 out of the University of Southern California before trading him to Los Angeles in 2020. Gilbert began his career as a starter in the Phillies’ system before eventually being converted to a reliever in 2017. Arizona had different plans and stretched him back out as a starting pitcher for the Reno Aces. There he made 10 starts pitching to a very respectable 3.44 ERA in a well known hitters’ environment.

Tyler made his MLB and Arizona Diamondbacks debut on August 3rd against the San Francisco Giants. His first three outings in a D’backs uniform were out of the bullpen in which he pitched 3 & 23 innings, struck out 5 batters, and gave up one unearned run. However, the next time he took the mound at Chase Field on August 14th is what cemented him in Arizona Diamondbacks’ history. A Diamondbacks pitcher had never thrown a no hitter at Chase Field before August 14th, 2021.

In fact, the only no hitter pitched in that downtown stadium, then named Bank One Ballpark, came on June 25th, 1999 when Jose Jiminez of the St. Louis Cardinals threw one against Arizona to secure a 1-0 victory for the red birds. Tyler would also not be the first left handed alumnus of USC to throw a no hitter for the Arizona Diamondbacks. That honor belongs to none other than Hall of Famer Randy Johnson and his unforgettable perfect game against the Atlanta Braves in 2004.

Much like that 2004 season the Diamondbacks found themselves spiraling away in mediocrity praying for the season to conclude swiftly. In Randy Johnson, fans expected a dominant performance regardless of the team talent level around him. Not the case with Tyler Gilbert who was unknown to even the most die hard of fans. Gilbert’s first career MLB start came against the, at that time, playoff hopeful San Diego Padres. San Diego was still 14 games above .500, 3rd in the National League West and very much a wild card contender. Arizona was an embarrassing 38-80 and trying desperately to avoid a franchise worst season record.

With his family in attendance, Tyler got to work with a pre-game set 85 pitch count limit. Ironically, his bid for a perfect game vanished against the very first batter, Tommy Pham, who drew a leadoff walk. Pham would be the only Padres batter to reach base that evening with three walks total, ultimately being erased on a double play twice. Like I imagine was the case with most D’backs fans in the 2021 season, I was loosely paying attention to the game for the first few innings while preparing dinner. By that point in the season, I think it would be safe to assume that we all built in an emotional safety net and would shut off the game if it got out of hand in the early innings. Not the case that fateful evening because Arizona would jump out to a rare 5-to-0 lead at the conclusion of the first inning. Past emotional trauma of the 2021 season would not allow some of us to be convinced that would be enough in the early innings, but at least the Arizona offense gave Tyler Gilbert a chance to secure a victory in his first MLB start.

The hitless innings continued to pile up until fans began to notice, as they always do, right around the end of the fifth inning. By that point Gilbert’s pitch count was already at 63, so if Torey Lovullo’s limit of 85 was to be believed then there was seemingly no chance he would finish the game.

Gilbert continued to defy odds. He eclipsed that 85 pitch limit in the top of the seventh thanks in part to an 8 pitch walk to Tommy Pham. With the no hitter still intact and a chance to do something special, Lovullo convened with his staff and decided to stretch that limit somewhere beyond 100 but below 110. Fear not because in the eighth inning Gilbert retired the side in order on only three pitches. By that point, Arizona sports fans were glued to their television and radio sets hoping to witness history at Chase Field. Nothing else was going on that mattered. The Phoenix Suns had already disappointingly lost the NBA Finals. The Arizona Cardinals had not begun regular season play. The Arizona Coyotes... exist? At that particular moment, Tyler Gilbert is THE center of the sports universe in Arizona.

Arizona had a comfortable 7-to-0 lead which undoubtedly gave the coaching staff more breathing room with Tyler as the game wore on. He took the mound in the ninth inning with the chance to become the first pitcher to throw a no hitter in his first MLB start since Bobo Holloman in 1953.

How did he conclude the no hitter? For the first time all evening, he actually retired Tommy Pham by getting him to line out to Ketel Marte in center field. Watching his father’s reaction in the stands in the video above brings back the same emotions from that evening. One could not write a more ridiculously cheesy movie script than what took place that evening. But this wasn’t fantasy. This was reality. Tyler Gilbert’s reality. He had to walk the journey from minor league starter converted to a reliever, to losing an entire season due to a pandemic, to working with his father as an electrician to make ends meet, to being selected in the AAA Rule 5 draft, to being thrust back into a starting role, to throwing the first no hitter in Chase Field history in his first MLB career start for a bottom of the league team. It is a movie script that would make most groan if they read it, but the fact that it actually happened right before our eyes is what makes it so special. His performance that evening was a reminder that anything can happen on any given night on the diamond.

Sure, Gilbert had a few starts after that incredible performance for the Arizona Diamondbacks. He may have a few more ahead of him in the next season as well. It is difficult, if not impossible, to best what he put up that night, but it will never be forgotten regardless of what he becomes in the future. That is what makes him a legend.