Jays' Morrow almost no-hits Tampa

Brandon Morrow came within one hit of entering Toronto Blue Jays history when he struck out 17 on the way to a 1-0 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays.

Would have been 2nd time in Toronto history after Dave Stieb in 1990

Brandon Morrow came within one hit of entering Toronto Blue Jays lore on Sunday afternoon. 

The young right-hander struck out 17 on the way to a 1-0 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays at the Rogers Centre but gave up a two-out infield single by Evan Longoria to the right side that Aaron Hill dived to reach but couldn't quite corral.

There was no hesitation from the official scorer, who immediately awarded a base hit rather than an error.

"That close," Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston said, holding his fingers an inch apart. "That close."

Dave Stieb still has the only no-hitter for Toronto, beating the Indians at Cleveland on Sept. 2, 1990, also a Sunday afternoon.

Morrow's 17 strikeouts are the second most in team history behind Roger Clemens' 18 on Aug. 25, 1998.

Battled through the 9th

Coming into the final inning with 16 strikeouts, Morrow opened with a fly ball to right by Jason Bartlett and a walk to Ben Zobrist.

Faced with both having to nail down the history and win a game that still stood in the balance, Morrow got the righty Carl Crawford, who had gone down for strikeouts numbers two, seven and 12 earlier in the game, to fly out to left field.

Too many too close

Toronto Blue Jays' pitchers have taken no-hit bids into the ninth inning eight times but only Dave Stieb has finished it out, beating Cleveland 3-0 on Sept. 2, 1990.

Here are the others.

Jim Clancy (Sept. 28, 1982): Clancy took a perfect game into the ninth against Minnesota before Randy Bush hit a bloop single to break it up with nobody out.

Dave Stieb (Sept. 24, 1988): Stieb gave up a two-out single in the ninth to Julio Franco of Cleveland.

Dave Stieb (Sept. 30, 1988): In his next start, Stieb gave up a single with two outs to Jim Traber of Baltimore.

Dave Stieb (Aug. 4, 1989): Stieb had a perfect game against the New York Yankees with two down in the ninth before allowing a Roberto Kelly double and a single to Steve Sax.

Roy Halladay (Sept. 27, 1998): Rookie Halladay had two outs on Detroit before Bobby Higginson homered.

Dustin McGowan (June 24, 2007): McGowan gave up a leadoff single to Colorado's Jeff Baker.

Brandon Morrow (Aug. 8, 2010) Morrow had two outs in the ninth when Evan Longoria's infield single broke it up.

That brought up Longoria, who sent a 1-1 fastball deep in the hole to the right side of the infield, where Hill could not quite get it.

"If anybody deserved a no-hitter it was him today," Longoria said. "It was one of those guys where you go up the plate and you really feel like, and I hate to say it, but this guy is making his pitches all day, what chance do we have?

"When he got ahead in counts, he was putting guys away better than anybody I've ever seen."

Gaston came out to chat and decided to let his pitcher stay in, despite runners on first and third, two out and the pitch count at a very high 129.

Morrow (9-6) struck out Dan Johnson to finish the game after battling through an eight-pitch at-bat.

"Cito gave me that chance to calm myself and refocus and say, 'Hey, I still got a chance to throw a shutout and get a 1-0 win and a big division sweep,"' Morrow said. "[Hill] joked, he said he was sorry for missing the ball. He made a great dive, it just bounced away from him."

Toronto (59-52) swept the weekend series against the Rays, handing Tampa (67-44) its fifth straight loss.

"That was my first complete game, my first one-hitter, so those things combined were enough to overcome the feeling of just the missed no-hitter," Morrow said. "It would have been a great feat."

And a great way to finish two days of amazing feats, coming as it did just 24 hours after rookie J.P. Arencibia homered on his first major league pitch, hit another round tripper and went four-for-five.

Morrow, who was absolutely dominant the entire game, had an inkling early that something special might be up.

"You think you might have a shot at it … the way my arm feels today, the way I'm locating, the way I'm throwing my off-speed pitches," he said.

"I think the biggest thing today was fastball location and my slider was real good. I didn't throw too many changeups and curve balls but when I did they were good pitches, so that was a real difference maker in the game."

Hot right out of the box

Morrow struck out the first three hitters in the first, walked Johnson to open the second and then took off from there to retire the field through six.

That inning was an event-filled one, however.

With one out, Jason Bartlett tried to turn away from a high pitch and the ball hit the barrel of his bat. Home-plate umpire Jeff Kellogg, however, said Bartlett was struck and sent him to first.

While the Tampa shortstop made the most of it by shaking his left hand — the wrong one, by the way — Gaston came out to ask Kellogg to get help from the other arbiters.

The call was overturned, Bartlett came back and was promptly struck out.

Next hitter was Zobrist and he looked to have broken up the no-hit bid with a drive to the wall in left centre until Vernon Wells ran it down and caught the ball just as he crashed into the blue padding to end the inning.

Wells left the game with a dislocated right big toe and Travis Snider came in to hit for him next at-bat. There was no word right away on Wells' condition.

After that, Morrow had one base runner in the seventh off an error on the way to the ninth inning.

Surprise starter also strong

Andy Sonnanstine started for Tampa, subbing for Jeff Niemann, who was scratched with a sore shoulder that isn't thought to be serious.

Sonnanstine, normally a right-handed reliever, with 30 appearances out of the pen so far this season, was activated this weekend from the disabled list, where he'd been since July 18 with a strained left hamstring.

And if it hadn't been for Morrow, he would have been the star of the game.

Any Sunday somnambulance for Sonnanstine disappeared in a hurry when his third pitch of the first inning to DeWayne Wise was lined back to the box, missing his face by about a centimetre.

The pitcher got his glove on it in a reflex move, then picked up the ball and threw out the batter at first.

He then walked Yunel Escobar, who showed his baseball IQ and speed by advancing from first to third on a ground ball to third baseman Longoria.

Wells then brought the only run of the game home with a base hit to right.

Sonnanstine settled in to down 11 of the next 13 he faced until a two-out walk by Jose Molina in the fifth. He would leave with one out in the sixth after reaching his pitch count.

Randy Choate, Dan Wheeler and Lance Cormier were excellent in relief.

Toronto now has a day off before starting a three-game home series with the Boston Red Sox on Tuesday.

with files from the Canadian Press