Adam Cowart was a lonely figure sitting by himself on the far end of the bench in the Augusta GreenJackets' dugout Tuesday night.
No one said anything to him.
"Yeah, it was pretty quiet down on this side," Cowart said.
It's usually the treatment a starting pitcher receives from teammates when he's working on a no-hitter, just as Cowart was Tuesday.
It didn't last, but Cowart's performance at Lake Olmstead Stadium was exactly what his worn out team needed.
Cowart carried a perfect game into the seventh inning, and his catcher, Nestor Rojas, came through with the decisive hit late to lead the GreenJackets to a 3-2 win over the Greensboro Grasshoppers.
Greensboro center fielder Scott Cousins broke up Cowart's bid for a perfect game with one out in the top of the seventh, when he doubled to left on the first pitch of the at-bat.
"I don't really worry about that. I don't sit here and think about it. It's not even in my head," said Cowart, who pitched 8q innings to earn his South Atlantic League-best eighth win. "I'm a ground-ball pitcher, so I know eventually one of them's going to get through."
Even though he gave up two hits in the seventh and two in the ninth and finished with two runs allowed - one earned - Cowart was a model of efficiency. He retired the first 19 batters he faced and left in the ninth having thrown fewer than 90 pitches.
"I was going to give him a chance to finish. He pitched a hell of a game, so it was only fair to give him the chance," Augusta manager Roberto Kelly said. "He just finally got tired.
"But it was impressive, especially after a long road trip."
The GreenJackets (35-17), who arrived in Augusta around 8 a.m. Tuesday after an eight-hour bus ride from Lexington, Ky., moved back into sole possession of the Southern Division lead with the win.
They're half a game ahead of Asheville and a game up on Columbus.
Cowart said he knew the team would be a little tired and wanted to do everything he could to make it easier. The defense behind him made several impressive stops to preserve the effort and help him lower his ERA to 1.87.
"To pitch that well and be tired like that, it's unbelievable," Kelly said.
Greensboro starter Derell McCall was solid into the seventh but fell to 0-4 on the road with the hard-luck loss.
He allowed just five hits and was charged with two runs, including the eventual game-winner in the seventh.
Rojas delivered the go-ahead RBI single in the seventh, and Dayton Buller was 2-for-3, including a leadoff hit in the decisive inning.
"I was just glad to help the team, and I just wanted to be smart behind the plate," Rojas said. "Offense and defense, I was trying to focus on both. I trust our pitchers, and I try to call good games for them."
After Cowart gave up a run on two hits in the ninth to make it 3-2, reliever David Newton picked off Greensboro's Chris Coghlan at third and struck out Jake Blackwood for his first save.
Except for a couple of hits allowed in the second inning, McCall cruised into sixth, when the GreenJackets finally pushed across a run of support for Cowart.
Sharlon Schoop singled and scored on Bobby Felmy's RBI single up the middle for a 1-0 lead.
The lone score was enough until Cowart finally ran into some trouble in the top of the seventh.
After Cousins' one-out double broke up the perfect game, Coghlan reached on an infield error and Blackwood singled to left to load the bases. Logan Morrison's sacrifice fly scored Cousins to tie it, 1-1.
In the seventh, Buller singled to right to end McCall's night, and reliever Chris Leroux drilled Mike McBryde on his first pitch, setting the stage for Rojas.
Rojas' grounder through the right side, with two strikes, scored pinch-runner Marcus Sanders from second, and McBryde came home on the throwing error to make it 3-1.
The Grasshoppers (30-22), who are second in the Northern Division, face Augusta in the second game of the four-game set tonight.
It was a big win for the GreenJackets, who play teams with above .500 records in 14 of the next 18 games before the first-half champion is decided.
Second-place Asheville and third-place Columbus, however, each play teams below .500 in 11 games before the All-Star break.
"We have a race now," Kelly said. "We've got a hard schedule ahead, so we're going to have to earn this one.
"We know we're going to have to do it on our own. We can't depend on anyone."
Reach Steve Sanders at (706) 823-3216 or firstname.lastname@example.org.