Pitchers are babied in the modern era. Years and years ago, the starting pitcher was expected to throw complete games. They tossed 300-plus pitchers a season and their average pitch count was well in the hundreds. For one night, for one game, baseball went back to those roots.

Through three innings, Arizona Diamondbacks starter Edwin Jackson had walked seven Tampa Bay Rays. Over that span he threw 68 pitches. But the final two of the third helped him escape a bases-loaded no-out jam, as B.J. Upton and Hank Blalock were retired on a pair of groundouts. That kept the no-hitter intact. A no-hitter I and many others believed he would actually attain.

Jackson needed only ten pitches to get through the fourth inning, a breeze in comparison to the tiresome first three frames. Still no hits allowed to his former team, a team that traded him because they had a surplus of young pitching. He was wild, but in not relinquishing a hit so far he was certainly showing the Rays management he was worth keeping.

He needed just nine more pitches to send down the three fifth-inning hitters. At this point, the possibility of throwing a no-hitter entered his thought process. At this point the Rays, who had been no-hit by the Oakland Athletics Dallas Braden earlier this season, and their sparse fan-base began to feel a sense of deja vu.

Adam LaRoche had given him a run of support with a solo-homer in the second inning , and Jackson continued to try to make that slim advantage stand by befuddling the Rays with his overpowering fastball-slider-changeup trio. His fastball was fired in the upper 90′s; his changeup in the high-80′s; his slider in the low 80′s. The speed differential and the way he mixed up his pitches caught Tampa Bay off guard. And, putting the Rays in even more danger, his wildness appeared to be behind him.

He hit Hank Blalock in the sixth but that was his only blip of the frame. In striking out Sean Rodriguez on all sliders to keep the no-hitter intact through six innings, he had reached the 100-pitch plateau. Six innings and 100 pitches. If he had allowed a hit, he would probably be replaced. But he had not, so manager A.J. Hinch stuck with him.

Jackson entered having thrown just two complete games in his seven-plus seasons, and had a 4-6 record with a 5.05 ERA. He had allowed 103 hits in 98 innings, struggling to say the least. But everything came together for him in this outing. And against his former team no less.

Jason Bartlett laced the seventh pitch of his at-bat, a slider, to begin the seventh right to third baseman Mark Reynolds, John Jaso got far underneath a heater and popped it up, then Ben Zobrist’s long battle ended just as the previous 27 had, without a hit. Six outs to go for one of the oddest no-hitters in major league baseball history.

Jackson was at the 117-pitch mark. Was he going to be replaced? No, not with history nearing his doorstep. Arizona’s bullpen is awful, one of the majors’ worst, and in a 1-0 game, calling the pen had to be the last thing on Hinch’s mind. Jackson was in until he allowed a hit, that was for certain. So he thought it best not to.

He showed signs of fatigue in the eighth, and an error by shortstop Stephen Drew that allowed Carlos Pena reach first didn’t help matters. But he persevered, and running on pure adrenaline, a dream was closing in on reality. He worked around the error, pumping in fastballs still hitting 93 on the gun to retire Matt Joyce, then benefited from a brilliant throw by catcher Miguel Montero to gun down speedy pinch-runner Carl Crawford trying to steal. Three outs away and 134 pitches thrown.

The 6-7-8 hitters–B.J. Upton, Hank Blalock, and Willy Aybar–were due up in the ninth, a potentially-historic inning. Incredibly, Jackson managed to find more than a little left in the tank. He found a few 95 miles-per-hour fastballs in his tired arm to dispose of Upton, who stared at the final of three pitches. Blalock watched 96 fly by for ball-one, knocked 95 foul for a 2-2 count, then weakly hit a slider with biting movement down to shallow right-field and into the glove of Gerrardo Parra.

Jackson had now thrown 142 pitches. He was breathing hard. His body looked fatigued. But he was pitching as if he had thrown only 20. Given his career has been tumultuous, he wanted the no-hitter so badly. Far too many times he has been wild and a run-allowing machine. In this game, this oh-so memorable game, he was just wild.

He missed on four-straight to Aybar for the eighth walk of his outing. Eighth, harnessing his inner Dontrelle Willis . Since the Diamondbacks were only ahead one-nil, a blast by Bartlett could end the no-hitter, shutout, and game. Unfortunately, he could not do this. He couldn’t get a hit either.

Jackson’s 147th pitch was fired over the heart of the plate. Presumably afraid an offspeed pitch would hang, it would be all fastballs from here on. Straight gas. Ninety-four was fouled back for strike-two. And another registered at 96 was nubbed across the infield to Drew.

Jackson thrust his fist into the air as Drew collected the grounder, then turned his head to first in anticipation, thrusting his magnificent right arm higher still. Drew’s throw smacked into LaRoche’s glove . Diamondbacks rushed towards Jackson from all directions. A celebratory mobbing ensued in front of a subdued and pathetically miniscule crowd inside domed Tropicana Field.

After throwing the second no-hitter in Diamondbacks history, he said, “I told him [Hinch] ‘I’m not coming out until I give up a hit, and if he wanted to rest me the next start he could,  but I’m not coming out of this game.” He didn’t have to. He wasn’t going to. Jackson’s only previous complete game shutout came three years ago. For his career, he has allowed on average 10 hits per nine innings pitched. He entered having pitched well in his past five starts. This was his moment. Taking him out for precautionary reasons wasn’t in the cards.

So, one-hundred and forty-nine pitches, eight walks, 27 outs , and no hits improbably injected Jackson’s name into the history books for the fourth no-no of this extraordinary Year of the Pitcher .

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