Before this week, no team had ever thrown a no-hitter against the Cuban national baseball team in international competition.
Former Collinsville High and current University of Missouri right-hander Tanner Houck had a major role in making sure that streak ended Wednesday, combining with two other USA Collegiate National Team pitchers on a no-hitter in a 2-0 win over Cuba.
Florida’s A.J. Puk and Texas A&M’s Ryan Hendrix were also in on the no-hitter, which came in thje opener of a five-game series between the teams at the USA Baseball complex in Cary, N.C.
Houck started the game and threw four perfect innings with four strikeouts, relying heavily on his fastball and slider.
“It was one of the top career moments of my life other than getting drafted and signing with the University of Missouri,” said Houck, a hard-throwing 6-foot-5 right-hander who was chosen to play with some of the top collegiate players in the country. “Obviously it was not just on a personal level but a national and international level as well. It was a great feeling, just amazing.
“We were all on top of our game and just went out there and absolutely crushed it.”
This was a team of USA college players going up against a team widely considered among the best in all of baseball, elite-level talent and experienced players in their 20s and 30s.
Cuba had only two baserunners, on Puk’s leadoff walk in the seventh and a USA error in the eighth.
“It was a high,” Houck said of the experience. “It was one of the reasons why I play this game. You get a little taste for that feeling, whether it’s a no-hitter against Cuba or a no-hitter in high school, it’s that high. It’s like now I’ve made a good stride and now I want to make a better one the next time I go out there.”
Team USA coach Ed Blankmeyer was impressed.
“I was bowled over when I talked to the Cuban press and they told me that was the first time Cuba had ever been no-hit in international play,” Blankmeyer told d1baseball.com. “That is pretty special. And that was pretty dominant; there were no close ones. Maybe two balls were really hit hard the entire game. We showed something very special (Wednesday).”
Houck said the game plan was to pitch aggressively early in the count and he didn’t disappoint. Twenty-eight of his 40 pitches were strikes and he needed only 11 pitches to breeze through the first two innings.
“I was attacking the zone with the fastball and using my off-speed pitches, too,” Houck said. “They’ve been known to always be an aggressive team and we went over that before the game with the coaching staff.”
Counting two previous outings with Team USA, Houck is 1-0 with a 2.13 ERA and 11 strikeouts in 12 2/3 innings.
“Tanner Houck was really good,” Team USA pitching coach Gary Henderson said on the team’s website following the no-hitter. “He got it started for us. The bottom was dropping out of the two-seam. He got the slider over in the third and fourth innings when we rolled the lineup over. Really impressive.”
Houck said it was an interesting feeling as he watched the no-hitter unfold.
“I was nervous, but I had no reasons to be nervous,” he said. “I know who we had with Puk coming in behind me as one of the top kids coming out of Florida and also Hendrix. It was great because I could hand off the ball to them and feel confident.”
Houck was a 12th round draft pick by the Toronto Blue Jays after his senior year at Collinsville in 2014, but decided not to turn pro and headed to Missouri
A year ago at this time he faced the same decision as Alton High senior left-hander Bryan Hudson, a third-round draft pick by the Chicago Cubs who signed for $1.1 million this week.
“Congrats to him on signing with the Cubs,” Houck said. “I went through the same thing last year and said that school was a better option for me at that time. I knew if I went to the University of Missouri I’d get bigger and stronger and become a better pitcher, hopefully, so I could be drafted higher than what I did out of high school.
“I’m working hard trying to improve myself and in two years, hopefully I’ll let all that hard work show.”
Houck is coming off one of the top seasons by a freshman pitcher in Mizzou history, going 8-5 with a 3.49 ERA and 91 strikeouts in 100 2/3 innings. He walked only 12 hitters in his first 15 college starts.
He was named Second-Team Freshman All-America by Baseball America magazine, Collegiate Baseball Magazine and d1baseball.com.
He also was named a Louisville Freshman All-American, becoming the first freshman All-American at Missouri since 2007 and first Tigers’ pitcher to earn the honor since 2002. Houck also made the All-Southeastern Conference Freshman Team.
Houck’s eight wins were most by a Mizzou freshman since former first-round draft pick Kyle Gibson in 2007. Houck’s 100 2/3 innings are the most ever thrown by a Tigers’ freshman and were the most by any freshman pitcher in the nation this season.