PHOENIX – As soon as Eduardo Escobar’s two-run homer landed in the right-field seats in the fifth inning, all attention turned toward Arizona Diamondbacks starter Luke Weaver.
The drama shifted to a pitchers' bid for history.
Weaver, the 27-year-old right-hander, had a perfect game through five innings against the Cincinnati Reds lineup and a six-run lead. He overpowered hitters with his mid-90s fastball and a wicked changeup that tailed away from bats.
The Reds, who set a franchise record for most runs in the first eight games of the season, avoided making a different type of history. Weaver’s perfect game ended when he hit Alex Blandino with a pitch in the sixth inning and Eugenio Suárez broke up the no-hit bid with a broken-bat single to center with one out in the seventh.
A rough weekend for the Reds ended with a 7-0 loss to the Diamondbacks at Chase Field, outscored by a combined 12 runs in their last two games. Weaver exited to a standing ovation and “Luuuke” chant from the crowd of 10,981 at the end of the seventh inning.
"It was pretty obvious that Weaver had good stuff," Reds manager David Bell said. "We did hit, I think we counted, three, four or five well-hit balls either at an infielder or an outfielder. That’s going to happen. The other at-bats, he was pretty much in command of and dominated with his fastball and his changeup."
Despite dropping a series to the Diamondbacks, the Reds afforded themselves some cushion with their hot start. They sit in first place in the National League Central with a 6-3 record.
It's the first time the Reds have lost back-to-back games this season, but they'll have some reinforcements this week. Sonny Gray, their Opening Day starter in 2020, could make his season debut as early as Friday. Jesse Winker, the team’s top hitter last season, hasn't started in six of the last seven games, but he should be back in his role as an everyday starter Monday.
"We just got beat the last two days," Kyle Farmer said. "There’s a lot of baseball left. Our lineup is still solid. I’d put our lineup against anybody any day of the week.
"Our locker room is very loose. It’s awesome. It’s a great group of guys and they don’t take one loss to heart. We have great leaders on this team. As long as they keep up the positive attitude that we have right now, we’ll be good."
Reds starter José De León, who could lose his spot in the rotation to Gray, flashed his potential, but he remains inconsistent. His “stuff” was probably just as good as Weaver on Sunday. He matched his career-high with nine strikeouts, showcasing an excellent slider, which is typically his third-best pitch.
"I should've gone more to it, I think," De León said of his slider, which was responsible for five of his nine strikeouts. "It was my first time I really had it going, so not knowing exactly how to use it when it's going as well as it was going today. You know, learning every time out."
The issue for De León is that when he left a pitch over the plate, it was in the sweet spot. He surrendered a three-run homer to David Peralta in the third inning, a blast that landed in the Chase Field pool beyond the fence in right-center. De León knew his mistake immediately, grimacing and putting his hands on his knees on the mound.
De León yielded eight hits and six runs in 4 1/3 innings, issuing three walks. He stranded the bases loaded in the fourth inning and kept the Reds in the game for another inning, but Escobar gave the D-Backs a 6-0 lead with his two-run homer in the fifth.
"I was getting ahead of guys and I wasn't able to expand with two strikes," De León said. "I was leaving pitches way too hittable. I've got to make some adjustments with that."
The main question after the fifth inning was whether Weaver could finish his perfect start.
"Everybody is in the dugout screaming no-hitter, perfect game," Farmer said. "You try to mess around with all those superstitious stuff, and we were doing as much as we could."
In Weaver’s first trip through the batting order, across the first three innings, he struck out five in 39 pitches.
The Reds didn’t make solid contact on a pitch until Joey Votto rocketed a fastball straight into the glove of shortstop Nick Ahmed, who was shifted onto the right side of the infield. The ball left Votto’s bat at 108 mph.
Farmer smashed another lineout to shortstop, this time in the traditional position, to open the sixth inning. Two batters later, Weaver lost control on a 92-mph fastball that hit Blandino on the shoulder.
Weaver was no longer perfect, but he still carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning. He appeared to show some signs of tiring, walking Votto on four pitches before Suárez broke up the no-hitter.
Then with two runners on base and one out, Weaver pitched out of the jam by striking out Aristides Aquino and inducing a flyout against Nick Senzel.
"All game, we thought we would get some runners on and get back in it," Bell said, "but it didn’t happen."