LEO ESTRELLA needed just 64 pitches for perfection on Saturday night, 6-18-2000, at VICTORY FIELD in Indianapolis and in the process, etched his name into the INTERNATIONAL LEAGUE record book. Making his Triple-A debut, ESTRELLA pitched seven perfect innings in leading his SYRACUSE SKYCHIEFS to a 5-0 win over the INDIANAPOLIS INDIANS in the first game of a doubleheader, with the INDIANS winning the second game by a 5-4 decision. "I was just trying to throw down the middle of the plate and let my defense play," he said. "I didn't do anything different than I normally do." ESTRELLA had only been called up to SYRACUSE two days before from the Double-A TENNESSEE SMOKIES. He found himself behind in a 3-0 count only twice, and was behind in the count to only four batters all night. Luckily for him, catcher BRIAN LOYD was called up with him. "Having BRIAN there makes a difference in my confidence," he stated. "He calls good pitches and I just follow his lead."

The best chance that INDIANAPOLIS had at a hit came in the bottom of the third inning when center fielder CHAD GREEN hit a hard liner to third that RYAN FREEL made a leaping catch on. Besides that near-hit, he was command throughout, striking out four and had eight ground outs behind him. Only four times did he throw three balls to any batter. Then he ended the game by striking out former 1999 SKYCHIEFS players NORBERT MARTIN and CHRIS JONES, getting JONES, a UTICA native who went to LIVERPOOL HIGH SCHOOL, afer throwing him three consecutive balls to start the at-bat. "I just tried to keep the ball down," ESTRELLA said. "I didn't think of the perfect game until the last batter, and then when I got behind 3-0, I knew I had to come in with some good fastballs."

This was also ESTRELLA's second no-hitter of the 2000 season. On May 27, at SMOKIES PARK, the new home of the TENNESSEE SMOKIES, in rural SEVIERVILLE, a suburb of KNOXVILLE, he threw a six-inning rain-shortened no-hitter, but which was impressive nonetheless. In a vital game for his SMOKIES they overtook the ORLANDO RAYS for the Eastern Division lead, with ESTRELLA striking out six and if not for one walk would have had himself a perfect game, in this 3-0 victory. On this night he got plenty of offensive support as CHAD MOTTOLA hit a first-inning solo homer to left-center field, and the SKYCHIEFS added three more runs in th fourth with an additional insurance run in the seventh inning.

In the nightcap, the INDIANS rallied from a two-run deficit, scoring five runs in the bottom of the third off SYRACUSE starter and eventual loser JOHN BALE. The SKYCHIEFS cut the deficit to 5-4 in the top of the sixth and had a chance to tie the score, however CESAR IZTURIS was thrown out at home on a fly out to left field.

Special to CANADIAN BASEBALL NEWS – 20 June 2000

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