THIS TIME AROUND, only the sight of bone popping through skin would have kept Eric McGough off the mound for the seventh inning.
Not again, in effect, would he leave the dance without asking the most beautiful girl for a slow one.
On April 4, McGough, a 5-11, 170-pound junior righthander at Archbishop Carroll High, pitched six innings of no-hit ball vs. Lansdale Catholic and then, with his pitch count at 92 and his arm "not really hurting, but feeling a little tired," white-flagged himself.
"I did regret it," he said. "I guess if I'd pushed myself I could have gone back out there. But it was still early in the season. Didn't want to risk an injury."
Tuesday, the occasion was another Catholic Blue contest at Conwell-Egan. And when fill-in catcher Justin Roman caught a foul popup off the bat of losing pitcher Beau Fleming about halfway up the third-base line, thus recording out No. 3 of the home seventh, there was a reason everyone rejoiced and scurried toward McGough.
Can you believe it? He'd pitched a no-hitter!
OK, so the 5-0 victory wasn't the cleanest no-no in diamond history, and McGough, a Media resident who bats third and spends his non-pitching days at shortstop, was fully aware.
"How many guys did I walk? Fifteen?" he asked, laughing.
The total was nine, with one hit-by-pitch added on. But he also struck out seven, and the Eagles came truly close to a hit only once, when centerfielder Steffen Ramondo (also three RBI out of the No. 9 hole) uncorked a coming-forward slide to snag a sinking liner by John Wasson to complete the sixth.
After the Patriots mini-celebrated, shook hands with C-E's players and coaches and returned to their dugout, McGough (the last syllable is pronounced guff) had a short conversation with first-year coach Chris Dengler . . . on a cellphone.
Dengler had been ejected from Saturday's nonleague game vs. Roman Catholic.
"One of our assistants, Bill [Tomochuck], was talking to Chris and he just handed me the phone," McGough said. "He congratulated me and said it was a big accomplishment. He also reminded me I've got to work on my arm maintenance to be ready to pitch next week."
McGough threw 133 pitches, 65 for strikes, while extending his streak of hitless innings to 13. His count was 111 after six innings, and Sean Spratt, the acting coach, met with two assistants to discuss the possible scenarios.
"They asked me about it," McGough said. "I wanted to go back out there. My arm was feeling really good. My control was a little off, of course, but I got the job done.
"The wind [blowing in hard from rightfield] might have had something to do with my control problems. I was also having some trouble with the mound. Kept landing in a funny position. I couldn't believe how wild I was.
"I was trying to keep the ball down and just get it over the plate while mixing in my off-speed pitches. And I was trying to work the inside corner."
In the parking lot much later, before getting into his car, Spratt said Dengler had been surprised when McGough's pitch count was mentioned during an in-game update.
"I don't think he knew the circumstances," said a smiling Spratt, referring to the fact that talking about no-hitters in progress is considered a jinx.
McGough, however, said he was aware all along that he'd yielded no hits. He'd even received a reminder from someone in the dugout before the sixth.
"It didn't make me nervous, really," he said. "I was pumped to go back out there."
On the bus ride back to Carroll, the school's president, the Rev. Edward J. Casey, a first-magnitude baseball enthusiast and the man who keeps the scorebook, couldn't resist searching the Internet on his cellphone.
At the field, he'd kiddingly called McGough "our version of Joe Cowley."
On Sept. 19, 1986, while with the White Sox, Cowley no-hit the Angels. He spent the first month of '87 with the Phillies, then was released. The no-no wound up being his final major league win.
"I had to check and see how many walks Cowley had," Casey said via cellphone. "It was seven. So, Eric went him two better."
Carroll plated one run apiece in the second and fourth and three in the fifth. Ramondo's RBI, in order, came on a walk, groundout and infield single, while James Luskin and McGough also stroked RBI singles.
The Patriots were without two starters, catcher Dan Santoleri and third baseman Jake Peabody, because of injuries. Roman is normally the rightfielder, while Luskin is a utility guy. In the second, Luskin made a nice charge play to prevent a sacrifice bunt. Santoleri, you could say, had a save. He was the guy who walked to the mound and retrieved the game ball when someone noticed it sitting there.
Soon, after posing for a pic with the ball, McGough asked the lensman, "Could we do that again? I wasn't smiling enough."
After all, he'd never pitched a no-hitter. Only six-sevenths of one.
Nearly a no-no
There were almost two no-hitters in Catholic Blue baseball Tuesday.
Besides McGough's, Neumann-Goretti senior lefty Joey Gorman got to the front steps in a 6-0 triumph over Lansdale Catholic.
"On our bench," Joe Messina, N-G's pitching coach, said in an email, "we did everything to avoid saying what was happening. Nobody mentioned the word no-hitter.
"Joey retired the first batter [in the seventh] on a groundout. As the second batter, Jon Motts, was in the box, the plate ump, Steve Benson, whispers to our catcher, Nicky Nardini, that he realized Gorman was throwing a no-hitter. Nardini shushes him and says, 'Don't say that word.' You can guess what happens on the next pitch. Motts singles over shortstop.
"The umpire felt terrible and apologized to Gorman and Nardini after the game."