Alec Mills shocked Cubs fans, baseball world with 2020 no-hitter
It’s difficult to determine Alec Mills‘ legacy in a Chicago Cubs uniform. He’s barely thrown at all this year and he’s been a solid, though not spectacular swingman for the team for years now. For me though, the first thing I think of with Mills is his 2020 season.
Although it was only two years ago now, it feels like forever. Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, time seemingly had no meaning and each day felt the same. Even turning on a Cubs game, one of the few somewhat normal things of the time, was inevitably given an air of strangeness due to the lack of a crowd. For Mills, it was another pretty pedestrian year with a 4.48 ERA to go with a far less appealing 5.44 FIP.
Nothing about his stuff nor his numbers has ever jumped off the page and coming into Milwaukee, the only hope was for him to pitch a serviceable outing. The Cubs were in the middle of what would be their last pennant race with the World Series core and I was in the midst of my last year of college. I drove home for the weekend, hoping for a bit of normalcy with my family away from the stresses of learning and the constant reminders that our world was turned upside down.
We sat down together to watch the game on Sunday before I’d have to make the drive home. We were completely unaware that Mills, the most unassuming pitcher on the team, was about to have the game of his life. Five innings in, I barely even noticed that he hadn’t given up a hit. Thanks to his groundball-heavy approach, it barely felt like anything special was happening. It also helped that the Cubs took the drivers out and had torched Milwaukee for nine runs by that point, keeping our minds off the pitching.
For one special day, Alec Mills found a new gear with the Cubs
By the time the seventh inning rolled around though, we were on the edge of our seats. I was tenser than I had been for some postseason games, let alone a regular season contest with potential postseason stakes. It felt extra special seeing someone like Mills having a game like this. When Jake Arrieta dominated his way to two no-hitters for two much better Cubs squads hoping to get that long-awaited title, it was exciting in a different way than seeing the college walk-on Mills become an ace for a day.
As the final innings rolled along, Mills seemed to be getting better. Despite a climbing pitch count, he showed no signs of fatigue, dotting up pitch after pitch and getting groundout after groundout. When the final out rolled up the middle to Javier Baez, his no-hitter had already felt all but certain. 114 pitches, 27 outs, no hits.
Seeing everyone swarm Mills made everything melt away. I couldn’t process what had just happened and that feeling of adrenaline, excitement and confusion stuck with me and my family even as I inevitably had to head back to my dorm to start another week. The magnitude of it all was enough to completely forget for a moment the world around me and just embrace the unbelievable moments baseball can bring.
Mills’ no-hitter is a reminder of baseball’s ability to turn the ordinary into the extraordinary. Even the darkest, dullest moments can bring forth memories that will last a lifetime. 2020 was the worst year of my life as it was for countless others, but for all I try to forget, this memory sticks with me.
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As the pandemic fades into the background and life returns to some semblance of normal, I still can’t help but be happy for that day when an ordinary game in a messed-up time became something more for both fans and for Mills.