"You guys could tell me however many he threw out there, but I'll tell you he threw 115," Hinch said. "The game's in the balance, 1-0, and he was throwing very, very well at the end. On top of that, he's throwing the most pitches in his career. You want to protect the man, but all's well that ends well."
From the sixth inning on, Hinch and Jackson spoke after every frame. The manager wanted to check in with his pitcher as often as possible, weighing the potential damage such a high pitch count could cause with the fact that his team was caught in a tense game. And Jackson only got better as the game wore on.
"That's such a complicated situation, with the game in the balance and him chasing a no-hitter," Hinch said. "First and foremost, I wanted to check with him and see how he was doing. He kept saying he was fine, kept saying, 'I'm not coming out. I'm not coming out. I'm not coming out.' I checked with him every inning, and as the momentum built and as the situation grew, it was pretty evident he had an extra gear."
As Jackson locked in, he became even tougher for the Rays to hit. He used a devastating slider and a tricky changeup to make up for his poor fastball location, which had led to the rocky start that drove up his pitch count so quickly. By the time his fastball finally came around, it was the ninth inning and the adrenaline took his fastball to another level. He hit 94 mph and 95 mph on the radar gun a few times, even touching 96 on his first pitch to Hank Blalock.
"That was one of the more bizarre no-hitters you'll ever be around," Hinch said. "His hardest fastball, I think, was in the ninth inning with all that adrenaline. He eases into the game a little bit. He's tried to get better at that -- earlier in the year it was a major fault, but he's changed that and has gotten into games a little bit better the last couple months. Once he does lock in and find it, it's really top-end stuff. He does that for a while. He was an All-Star last year, which means he really found his rhythm and was able to maintain it."
Although Hinch would not have taken Jackson out against his will later in the game, there were several points at which he thought about making a call to the bullpen. After seeing Jackson surrender seven walks in three innings, Hinch had right-handed reliever Esmerling Vasquez up, and two other pitchers also stood up to throw in case Jackson's incredibly high pitch count caught up to him.
"We actually got guys up for if he was going to lose it -- and I mean lose his control, not lose the no-hitter," Hinch said.
Added pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre, who called the night the brightest moment of his coaching career: "We got three guys work tonight on the side, so I was kind of kidding that we got three guys up who got their sides in. It's always a tough decision. Obviously he had a high pitch count. The guy's a warrior, and he battles."
Jackson's 149 pitches were the most by any pitcher since Livan Hernandez threw 150 in 2005 -- and only 79 went for strikes. As far back as pitch counts have been recorded, Jackson's 149 were the most thrown in a nine-inning no-hitter.
Although he smiled and reassured reporters that his throwing arm was feeling good after the game, Jackson said he would skip his next start or move it back a few days, if needed -- whatever it took to finish off his no-hitter.
"Early in the game, I'm sure if I had given up a hit, I would have been out for sure in the sixth," Jackson said. "It's just one of those moments where I tell them I'm not coming out till I give up a hit or a home run.
"It's one of those opportunities that doesn't come every day. For me to come out of that game and still not having given up a hit, it would have been a what-if. 'What if I had stayed in the game?' I'm glad it didn't have to be a what-if situation, and it could be something that I know the results of because I finished the game."