When Luis Mendoza took the mound for the ninth inning, he didn't know his pitch count was nearing that danger zone where a Minor League manager has no choice but to look to the bullpen.
He still felt strong and didn't let the atmosphere surrounding the moment cloud his concentration. As he stood there, knowing he was three outs away from his first no-hitter, he could feel the excitement buzzing through the crowd and he fed off it.
With that extra burst of energy and an attack-first mentality, the 25-year-old right-hander secured the final three outs of one more hitless frame in Oklahoma City's 5-0 victory over Salt Lake.
"It feels great," Mendoza said with a laugh as he tried to sort through his emotions. "I don't believe it yet, but it's a great feeling."
He is the first RedHawks' pitcher to throw a nine-inning complete game since 1996 and the second Pacific Coast Leaguer to toss one in three weeks -- Salt Lake's Sean O'Sullivan held Sacramento hitless on July 28. Colorado Springs' Brandon Hynick threw a seven-inning perfect game on June 30.
Mendoza is the first Oklahoma City pitcher to hold a team hitless since Dustin Nippert threw a seven-inning gem at Omaha on June 29, 2008. It was the first RedHawks' no-hitter at AT&T Bricktown Ballpark since it opened in 1998.
The 6-foot-3 right-hander issued six walks, notched six strikeouts and threw 125 pitches, improving to 6-4 with a 4.04 ERA over 21 appearances (14 starts). He has won four straight games as a starter, although he struggled in his last appearance out of the bullpen.
Against Sacramento on Aug. 8, he surrendered a season-high six runs on eight hits over 4 2/3 innings. It was an outing he was quick to put behind him, but it provided a little extra motivation when he took the mound Friday.
"During the game, I just tried to attack the hitters," he said. "Throw strikes and not throw too many pitches."
Mendoza did struggle with his command at times and he wasn't pleased with the walk total, but after the final out, a TV interview, a shaving cream pie to the face and more interviews, he was too overcome with emotion to care.
"I feel confident. I know I can make the pitches," the native of Veracruz, Mexico said.
The most important thing about this start for Mendoza, though, is the message he hopes it sends to the big club in Arlington, Texas.
"I think I need to prove to my organization what I can be in the big leagues, that I can be a good starter," he said.
In each of the past three seasons, Mendoza has pitched for the Rangers. He was 1-0 with a 2.25 ERA over six appearances (three starts) in 2007, 3-8 with an 8.67 ERA in 11 outings last season and he made one relief appearance this year.
"I'm just waiting for that call to try to stay in the big leagues," he said. "I'll just keep doing what I'm doing right now."