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Kevin Brown nails Giants with no-hitter

Henry Schulman for The Sporting News

SAN FRANCISCO -- Kevin Brown throws the ball to Giants batter William VanLandingham during the sixth inning June 10 in San Francisco. Later in the ninth, Kevin Brown watched his pitch fly past Giants outfielder Darryl Hamilton and, for just a moment, he was confused. The Marlins right-hander had thrown a nearly perfect game against the Giants, the first no-hitter in the major leagues this season. ''I was trying to figure out how to act,'' he said about his instant of uncertainty after striking out Hamilton for the final out of the game. His second thought? ''It was disbelief. I guess I still don't realize what it's all about,'' he said. ''Part of me wanted to run.'' Instead, Brown raised his arms to the sky and leapt into the embrace of his teammates. The Marlins came away with a 9-0 victory, but the actual score hardly seemed to matter.

''If there was ever a no-hitter where a guy had practically 100 percent unhittable stuff, that was today,'' said Marlins manager Jim Leyland. Leyland called it "a totally dominating no-hitter. It was not a fluke. No question about it." Nobody in the other locker room would argue after Kevin Brown, Florida's ace, handcuffed the San Francisco Giants Tuesday for the first no-hitter in the majors this year.

Nobody truly came close to a hit, and if not for a cut fastball that grazed Marvin Benard in the right leg in the eighth inning, Brown might have had a perfect game.

Brown was the National League ERA leader last year (1.89), but he's not a Nolan Ryan-type pitcher.

Thus, he figured he would never throw a no-hitter. He told that to teammate Al Leiter last year after Leiter no-hit the Colorado Rockies.

After Brown struck out Darryl Hamilton to complete the second no-no in Florida Marlins history, Leiter wasted no time giving Brown grief over his comments, razzing him on the mound even as the entire Florida team converged to congratulate him.

"He was giving me a hard time," Brown said. "We had been talking since last year when he threw his no-hitter about throwing no-hitters, and I thought I really didn't have to worry about ever doing that because, as many ground balls as I give up, somebody's going to find a hole or something."

Based on his last three outings, Brown didn't seem like the best candidate to throw a no-hitter.

In his last three starts he had given up 12 hits to the Mets, nine to the Rockies and 12 to the Padres. He had won just two of his seven starts.

Even while warming up Tuesday he didn't feel particularly strong.

"I was a little irritated coming out of it because I had worked real hard on a couple mechanical points that the last couple of games I haven't been real comfortable with. During the bullpen I really didn't feel like I was throwing the ball the way I was working on it.

"I was irritated with that. I finally said the heck with it. I've just got to keep the ball down and try to get guys out."

Brown kept the ball down perfectly, recording 17 outs on groundballs, seven on strikeouts and three on fly balls. Players on both teams said the key was his nasty sinker.

"He had the ball moving in, moving out, moving down. You bet," said Giants second baseman Jeff Kent, who struck out twice and grounded out to third. "It was the best sinker I've seen all year. The first couple of pitches I was just trying to read him. Then, I was just trying to touch the ball and make contact. That's what we were all trying to do."

Said Marlins catcher Charles Johnson, "His sinker was the best I've ever seen today. When he throws a sinker like the way he threw it today, he's almost unhittable."

Brown said opposing pitcher William VanLandingham helped him keep his concentration by keeping the game close. Brown's counterpart with the Giants also had a no-hitter going until the seventh inning, when Charles Johnson's two-run homer sparked a seven-run rally.

In fact, VanLandingham took a no-hitter into the seventh inning himself, losing it when Johnson followed a walk to Bobby Bonilla with a long home run to left. The Marlins had already scored without a hit in the fifth inning.

"I was trying to bear down from the first inning," he said. "The games that are pretty tight, there's not much room for error. It probably made it easier not having time to think about it."

As often happens when a pitcher gets close to a no-hitter on the road, Giant fans changed allegiance after the eighth inning and rooted for Brown.

After pinch hitter Stan Javier grounded out sharply to shortstop Edgar Renteria for the second out of the ninth inning -- perhaps the toughest play made all day by Florida's defense -- the fans stood and applauded.

"They were trying to jinx me earlier for the first eight innings. They decided in the ninth inning to cheer for me, which is not surprising," Brown said. "It was nice."

Brown then struck out Hamilton to ignite the celebration. During the post-game press conference, several teammates doused Brown with champagne and beer.

"I hope we have some bigger days yet to come, hopefully this season," Brown said. "I'd like to be getting sprayed with champagne a little later on in the season."

He admitted the enormity of his afternoon hadn't hit him yet.

"I don't think I've had time to let it sink in," he said a half hour after the fact. "It's still kind of unrealistic. I'm sure when I get a chance to relive it I'll enjoy it, at least for the next couple of days."

Brown (6-4) was so good he almost became the 15th pitcher in major league history to throw a perfect game. With two outs in the eighth, his 1-2 cut fastball hit Marvin Benard, who became San Francisco's lone baserunner. Brown didn't dwell on what could have been, however. He was celebrating what was ''probably the biggest day of my life.'' ''Hopefully, I'll have bigger days yet to come,'' he said. ''Hopefully, I'll get some champagne poured on me at the end of the year.''

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