Morrow comes one out short of no-hitter
Brandon Morrow was trying to join Dave Stieb in the Blue Jays record book Sunday afternoon and, in a strange way, he did.
With Morrow one out away from matching Stieb as the only Jays pitcher to throw a no-hitter, Tampa Bay’s Evan Longoria singled off the glove of Toronto second baseman Aaron Hill to break up the bid.
The right-hander rebounded from that disappointment to strike out Dan Johnson and get the final out of the game, preserving Toronto’s 1-0 win and a three-game weekend sweep.
Stieb tossed his no-hitter in a 2-0 win over the Indians at Cleveland on Sept. 2, 1990 but, before he accomplished that feat, three times he lost no-hitters in the ninth inning, one on a hit by Baltimore’s Jim Traber, one on a hit by Cleveland’s Julio Franco and the other on a hit by New York Yankees’ Roberto Kelly.
Morrow knows that feeling now. He struck out 17 batters, walked a pair and allowed one other baserunner on an error by first baseman Lyle Overbay.
Morrow had started the ninth by inducing a lazy fly ball from Jason Bartlett. After a walk to Ben Zobrist, Carl Crawford lined out to Travis Snider in left field.
That brought Longoria to the plate. A ball and a strike later, with Hill shaded to his right, Longoria slashed a grounder into the hole between first and second. Hill dove, got his glove on the ball, but had no chance for a play, even if he had held it.
“I did everything I could and couldn’t come up with it,” said Hill. “Wish I could get an error for it but, unfortunately, it is what it is.”
There was no question in Morrow’s mind. “Fastball down and away and he put a good swing on it and punched it through the hole,” he said. “It’s a hit, for sure.”
With runners now at first and third, manager Cito Gaston visited the mound, allowing Morrow to get his feet back under him. The no-no was gone but the game hung in the balance.
“I just said: ‘You’ve got one more in you?’ And, of course, he said yes,” Gaston said. “That was great. I wanted him to finish that game. The pitch count was up and that was the only thing I didn’t like about it.
“I wanted to let him finish because of what he had done. If we were going to lose it, let him lose it.”
With Morrow’s 137th pitch, the most he’s ever thrown in a game, he fanned Johnson to end it. If there were any sense of a letdown, Morrow’s icy demeanour didn’t betray it.
“I was excited,” he said, without betraying that emotion, either. “It’s my first complete game, first shutout. Those things combined are more than enough to overcome the missed no-hitter. That would have been a great feat, but I’ll start with a complete game, one-hit shutout with 17 strikeouts.”
The other hero in this game was Vernon Wells, whose duck-snort single blooped into right field in the first inning and delivered Yunel Escobar with the only run of the game.
Wells also ended the sixth inning with a backhand, leaping catch against the wall in centre to snare a sure double by Zobrist, for the moment preserving the no-hitter. Wells dislocated the big toe on his right foot on the play and will probably miss a couple of games.
“In that situation, you go as hard as you can,” said Wells. “You’ve got to make the play. I made the catch, hit the wall and then I told (left fielder DeWayne Wise): ‘I think I broke my toe’ and he thought I was kidding. We were running in and I was hoping it would pop back in. My toe just hit the wall the wrong way.
“I have to get another X-ray (Monday) and then, as long as it’s not fractured, I’ll just tape it up and get going as soon as possible.”
The Rogers Centre is often criticized for its morgue-like atmosphere but, throughout this weekend, and particularly Sunday, the place was electric. It was not a particularly large crowd — 22,313 — but it was noisy and responsive, rising to the moment.
In the end, Morrow’s reach for history fell just short of his grasp but, as was the case for Stieb, there are other days on the horizon.