TORONTO — Brandon Morrow wasn’t about to hang his head after coming inches away from a no-hitter. The Blue Jays pitcher still tossed his first shutout — first complete game, in fact — and struck out a career-high 17 batters.
“Those things combined were more than enough to overcome the feeling of the missed no-hitter,’’ said Morrow, who allowed only Evan Longoria’s single with two outs in the ninth inning of a 1-0 victory over Tampa Bay yesterday. “That would have been a great feat, but I’ll start at a complete-game, one-hit shutout with 17 strikeouts.’’
Longoria said that Morrow deserved the no-hitter, with the way he was mixing a devastating breaking pitch and a mid-90s fastball to plow through the Rays’ batting order.
“He was putting guys away better than anybody I’ve ever seen,’’ Longoria said.
The three-game sweep was crippling for the Rays, who have lost a season-high five straight after briefly moving ahead of the Yankees in the AL East earlier in the week.
The crowd of 22,313 gave Morrow a standing ovation as he took the mound in the ninth.
Jason Bartlett flied to center, Ben Zobrist walked on four pitches, and Carl Crawford popped out to bring up Longoria, who took a shaky swing at a 1-and-1 pitch and hit a grounder the other way. Second baseman Aaron Hill scooted to his left and made a dive as the ball took its third hop, and it fell out of his glove and trickled away as he hit the ground.
“He threw a four-seam fastball away that I fouled off and I saw him shake on the pitch that I got the base hit on, so I just kind of guessed fastball away again,’’ Longoria said. “With the walk and the runner on, that four-hole was open and it just gave me enough room.’’
Official scorer Dave Perkins, a retired Toronto Star writer working just his third game, wasted no time in making the call.
“I won’t lose any sleep over it. That’s a base hit all the way,’’ Perkins said.
A disconsolate Hill needed time to cool off before facing reporters.
“Did everything I could, couldn’t come up with it,’’ Hill said. “Wish I could have gotten an error or something for it. Unfortunately that’s just the way it is.’’
Morrow got a cooler of water dumped on him by celebrating teammates after one of the most dominating performances in the year of the pitcher. There have already been five no-hitters this season — including two perfect games — and three others broken up in the ninth inning.
The Rays came close to being involved in their fourth no-hitter of the season, which would be a record for the modern era. Matt Garza threw the first no-hitter in Rays history against Detroit July 26, and Tampa Bay was on the short end against Arizona’s Edwin Jackson June 26 and Oakland’s Dallas Braden May 9, when he finished off a perfect game.
“I was beginning to think no-hitters were kind of commonplace,’’ Longoria said. “It seems like we’ve been a part of and watched so many this year.’’
Dave Stieb threw the only Blue Jays no-hitter Sept. 2, 1990, at Cleveland. The franchise record for strikeouts is 18, set by Roger Clemens against Kansas City Aug. 25, 1998.
Morrow had retired 13 straight when plate umpire Jeff Kellogg ruled that he hit Bartlett with a pitch in the sixth. Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston argued the call and the umpires finally said that the ball hit Bartlett’s bat, sending him back to the plate. Rays manager Joe Maddon then argued with Kellogg and fellow umpire Larry Vanover, before Morrow struck out Bartlett swinging.
Maddon acknowledged that the delay might have disrupted Morrow’s rhythm.
“It was in the back of my mind,’’ Maddon said. “I thought the longer I stayed out there, he might make a mistake. He didn’t do it.’’
The next batter, Zobrist, drove a ball to deep center, but Vernon Wells made a leaping catch that ultimately forced him out of the game with a dislocated toe. He was replaced by Travis Snider in the bottom half.
Dan Johnson was the only Rays batter to reach base through the first eight innings, drawing a walk in the second and reaching on Lyle Overbay’s fielding error in the seventh. Fans chanted “Error!’’ after the play and cheered when the scoring decision was posted.
Toronto got the only run it needed in the first, when Yunel Escobar walked and was running when Jose Bautista grounded to third. Escobar beat the return throw and slid in safe at third, then scored when Wells followed with a bloop single to right.
Rays righthander Andy Sonnanstine (2-1) was activated off the 15-day disabled list to make his first start of the season in place of Jeff Niemann, who was scratched with a sore right shoulder. Sonnanstine allowed three hits in 5 1/3 innings, walked three, and struck out one.