"THIS IS ONLY
THE BEGINNING"

Tyler Gilbert is looking to build off his dazzling first start. 

By Jerry Crasnick

After generating a season’s worth of excitement in his first major-league start, Arizona pitcher Tyler Gilbert shared some heartwarming details in his post-game interview session. While recounting his career path, he revealed that he spent the 2020, Covid-decimated minor-league season doing electrical work alongside his father, Greg, to earn some extra money.

All those marathon days pulling wires and installing light fixtures made him appreciate the simple pleasures of baseball -- like practicing pickoff moves and fiddling with pitch grips.

“I guess now that everyone knows, they’ll probably be asking me to fix outlets here and there,’’ he said, laughing.

Gilbert is one of one of about 200 players who’ve made their MLB debuts in 2021, and it’s fair to say no one has made a bigger first impression. On Saturday night, with his father, mother, girlfriend and her family among 16,716 fans in the stands at Chase Field, he beat the San Diego Padres 7-0 for the eighth no-hitter of the season.

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Gilbert joined an elite and largely obscure group as the fourth pitcher to throw a no-hitter in his first big-league start. The others: Theodore Breitenstein of the 1891 St. Louis Browns, Bumpus Jones of the 1892 Cincinnati Reds and Bobo Holloman of the 1953 Browns.

“I just learned their names, actually,’’ Gilbert said. “I don't really know anything about them. But they’ve got cool names.’’

While achieving the highly improbable, Gilbert inspired a host of sub-groups. At 27, he’s a role model for late bloomers. He spent five years with his first professional organization, the Philadelphia Phillies, before being traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers and then acquired by the Diamondbacks in the Triple-A portion of the Rule 5 draft, so he knows what it means to bounce around the game. And he throws his fastball about 90 mph from the left side, so he’s a bit of an anomaly amid the game’s current preoccupation with velocity.

None of that mattered when Tommy Pham lined his 102nd pitch into center fielder Ketel Marte’s glove for the final out Saturday night, and several members of his fan club cried and cheered in the stands.

“The whole thing is surreal, like a fairy tale,’’ Greg Gilbert told a Phoenix TV station after the game. “It's just a great story. All the stars lined up for him.’’

Time has taught Gilbert the importance of overcoming setbacks and making his own breaks. After fighting through injuries at Santa Barbara Community College, he made a strong enough impression at the University of Southern California for the Phillies to select him in the sixth round of the 2015 draft. Gilbert transitioned to the bullpen in 2017 and spent the 2018-19 offseason pitching for Licey in the Dominican Winter League.

“That was a good time,’’ he said. “It’s a whole different environment in terms of baseball. It’s really energetic. It’s crazy. They love baseball down there. It was cool experiencing baseball in a different country, because I had never done that.’’

Gilbert grew up a San Francisco Giants fan in northern California, so one of his biggest thrills upon arrival in the majors was introducing himself to Arizona teammate Madison Bumgarner, the MVP of the 2014 World Series. Gilbert broke in with three effective relief outings before pulling a no-hitter out of his hat.

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2021
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2015 - 2019

He saved his jersey and his glove from the game and gave the climactic, final-out ball to his father. It’s been authenticated and put in a display case for safekeeping.

“It meant everything, because my dad is the one who introduced me to this game,’’ Gilbert said. “I told him to hold onto it, because I want it forever. I’ve been waiting for this moment for so long.’’

Regardless of what transpires from here, Gilbert has already made a statement on behalf of pitchers who don’t throw as hard as front offices and scouts typically like, and players who spend more time in the minors than they would prefer. He’s testament to the idea that gratification delayed isn’t necessarily gratification denied.

“A lot of people look at radar guns,’’ he said. “Even fans like seeing 100 miles an hour up on the board. Who doesn’t like watching that? If you don’t throw as hard as everyone else, you have to find a way somehow to get there. I’m glad I did. I just stuck with it and I’m going to continue to stick with it. This is only the beginning.’’

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