Caleb Smith, for nearly six innings, flirted with perfection.
The Miami Marlins lefty retired the first 17 Chicago White Sox batters he faced at Guaranteed Rate Field on Tuesday night — the 10-year anniversary of Mark Buehrle’s perfect game for the White Sox.
Perfection ended there with Adam Engel and Leury Garcia drawing two-out walks. Smith’s no-hitter and shutout bid ended with Batter No. 20 as Miami native Jon Jay hit a single through the right side.
But even with that, Smith put together one of his best starts of the season in the Marlins’ 5-1 win over the White Sox that snapped a four-game losing streak. The Marlins are now 37-62.
Seven innings, which tied a career high.
Nine strikeouts, two shy of his career high and eighth time fanning at least eight batters.
Just four baserunners, two hits and the one run.
He threw 93 pitches in the win — his team-leading sixth of the year. One third of those pitches were either called or swinging strikes.
“Just throwing strikes,” Smith said. “Filling up the zone. I let my defense work. They did a great job tonight and they made some really good plays.”
It started with a nine-pitch first inning and followed with two strikeouts in the second. Smith needed eight pitches to retire the side in the third inning and only 10 more in the fourth. He struck out the side in the fifth, all looking.
“It was a good day for Smitty,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said.
And then came that sixth inning, where he needed got into trouble after striking out both Ryan Goins and Yolmer Sanchez swinging on 11 pitches.
Smith threw 14 pitches to Engel, Garcia and Jay in the run-scoring sequence before getting Jose Abreu to pop out in foul territory.
“I definitely was thinking about the no-hitter and perfect game the entire time,” Smith said, “but you try to put it out of your mind even though it’s kind of hard to.”
Smith gave up a second hit in the seventh on a one-out single by A.J. Reed but ended the inning three pitches later with a Wellington Castillo first-pitch lineout and two-pitch Ryan Goins fly out, which Curtis Granderson caught at the wall in left field.
In three games since the All-Star Break, Smith has given up five earned runs over 18 innings — a 2.50 ERA — on 10 hits and nine walks with 22 strikeouts.
He got all the run support he needed in the fourth inning. Brian Anderson led off with his 23rd double of the season and scored on a Neil Walker RBI single. Starlin Castro scored Walker with a double down the left-field line. Granderson capped scoring in the four-run inning with his ninth home run of the season, this one going 373 feet into right field.
Harold Ramirez added another run with a solo home run, his fifth of the year, to right-center in the fifth.
Nick Anderson threw a perfect eighth with two strikeouts and Jarlin Garcia closed the game with a scoreless ninth. Garcia has now gone 17 consecutive scoreless innings, the most by a left-handed reliever in Marlins history.