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Brazelton flirts with no-hitter
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06/25/2004 10:09 PM ET 
Brazelton flirts with no-hitter
Brazelton, Baez team up for two-hit shutout

Dewon Brazelton came within four outs of throwing the Rays' first no-hitter on Friday. (Chris O'Meara/AP)
ST. PETERSBURG -- Dewon Brazelton hurt all over.

It might have been the sixth inning, or maybe it was the seventh. Brazelton wasn't sure because muscle cramps were starting to take over his body.

"It took everything I had to throw every pitch," Brazelton said.

The 24-year-old right-hander usually has a pitch limit of 80 or 85 pitches. But on Friday night against the Marlins, he was at 103 pitches after six innings and 110 pitches after seven.

But Brazelton knew he had to go on. He had a no-hitter going.

"I was battling with everything I had," Brazelton said.

The cramps actually made Brazelton take his mind off the no-hitter and focus on the pain.

"They forced me to relax because I knew if I [tensed up], it would hurt more," Brazelton said. "And when I relaxed, my pitches were of more quality because I throw better when I'm relaxed."

Brazelton worked as quickly as he could toward what he knew would be the first no-hitter of his pitching career, including youth leagues.

"If it wasn't a no-hitter, I probably would have been out of the game in the seventh," Brazelton said.

At one point, he actually thought about the no-hitter thrown in 2001 by his mound opponent on Friday night, A.J. Burnett.

"I watched that game on TV, probably in my dorm room," said Brazelton, who attended Middle Tennessee State. "I thought about how this game looked very similar to this one, with all the walks."

In the eighth inning, Brazelton started to look wobbly on the mound. From the dugout, manager Lou Piniella could see that and started to lose interest in history being made.

"I was more concerned with his pitch counts," Piniella said. "I asked [pitching coach] Chuck Hernandez several times how many pitches he had thrown. But I wasn't going to take him out. We were going to ride it until he gave up a base hit."

With two out in the eighth inning, Brazelton faced his biggest challenge of the night -- cleanup hitter Mike Lowell. The count went full.

"At 3 and 2, I knew, no-hitter or not, Lou would probably bring in another pitcher," Brazelton said. "I didn't want to walk him. He fouled off a couple of pitches, and then I just gave it everything I had."

Lowell sent a one-hop, ground-rule double to left-center to end the no-hitter.

"I was hoping [Brazelton] was going to finish it," left fielder Carl Crawford said. "But as soon as [Lowell] hit it, I said, 'Oh, that's going to be hard to get right there.' "

And if Crawford and centerfielder Joey Gathright, a couple of road runners on FieldTurf, couldn't get to the ball, it was, indeed, a hit.

Once he saw the ball hit the ground, Brazelton was about to collapse.

"He was done," Hernandez said. "There was no decision to be made at that point."

Brazelton slowly made his way to the bench, followed closely by trainer Ken Crenshaw. Brazelton hit the bench hard and thought about what had happened.

He was asked later if he would have thrown a no-hitter if he had gotten Lowell out.

"I know I would have," Brazelton said.

Instead, closer Danys Baez came in and limited the Marlins to one hit on the way to a combined two-hitter, as the Devil Rays topped the Marlins, 2-0, and reached .500 for the first time ever after June 1.

Brazelton (1-0) allowed six walks and hit one batter before 25,157 fans at Tropicana Field. He struck out five and threw 125 pitches, 76 for strikes.

He was asked after the game if he could even imagine throwing a no-hitter for his second Major League victory.

He had a surprising answer.

"I don't know," Brazelton said. "[Throwing a no-hitter] may not have been the best thing on earth for me. Expectations might have shot through the roof again."

Brazelton was referring to the fact that he was the No. 3 pick in the 2001 draft, right behind Mark Prior and right ahead of Mark Teixeira and Gavin Floyd. After a couple months of negotiation, he was given a Major League contract and a hefty bonus, neither of which set well with his new, young teammates.

The Major League contract put him on the bench in September for the Rays that season, but he did not pitch. He started his pro career in 2002 at Double-A Orlando, finished the minor league season with Triple-A Durham and then rejoined the Rays in September. After two starts, he was shut down. But the expectations for him had already become quite evident.

He made 10 starts for the Rays early last season and was 1-6 with a 6.89 ERA before the Rays decided he needed a major change. They sent him all the way back to Class A Bakersfield, a level he had skipped, to have his pitching mechanics and mental approach overhauled by Blaze pitching coach Marty DeMerritt.

A multilevel demotion had worked for the Roy Halladay and the Blue Jays a few years before, and the Rays figured it might work with Brazelton.

It did.

Brazelton went back to the style of pitching he'd used in college, with more arms and legs in motion. He moved up to Orlando, but never made it back to the Rays in 2003. The highlight of his year was being named a top prospect in the Arizona Fall League.

"I've been through a lot," Brazelton said. "But that was last year. I don't like to talk about last year."

But Brazelton will say he learned quite a bit.

"Everything I'm doing now is a product of everything I've learned in the last year," Brazelton said.

Specifically, Brazelton learned how to go right after tough hitters.

"Miguel Cabrera is a great talent," Brazelton said. "I [struck him out] tonight on a slider, which is something I picked up in the last year."

Brazelton also learned to mix his pitches better, work the corners of the plate and -- a direct order from Mr. Piniella -- keep the ball down, down, down.

He did just that against the Marlins, using his above-average changeup quite well.

Brazelton ended up settling for the win, not a no-hitter, on Friday night. But he may have gained much more.

"We've been playing so well lately, I didn't want to disappoint my teammates," Brazelton said. "I just want my team to respect me."

Paul C. Smith is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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