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 strucked 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 on Sunday. "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 New York 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 out to center, Ben Zobrist walked on four pitches and Carl Crawford popped out to bring up Longoria, who took a shaky swing at a 1-1 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 was drifting toward first base, saw the ball get loose and sagged a bit, putting his hands on his thighs. He then recaptured himself and started toward third base to back up the play — quick thinking, considering the outcome of the game still hung in the balance.
Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston came to the mound but never seemed to consider lifting Morrow from the game. Instead, Morrow promptly stuck out Dan Johnson swinging to end it.
"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.
Johnson said a nasty slider was Morrow's best pitch.
"He was throwing that slider at will. Either you were chasing it and if you weren't chasing it, he was throwing it for strikes," Johnson said. "He had real good action and it was coming out the same way his fastball was."
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.
Vernon Wells drove in the only run for Toronto before leaving with a dislocated toe, which happened when he made a leaping catch against the wall in the sixth inning to preserve Morrow's no-hit bid. Wells stayed down briefly before jogging slowly off the field.
X-rays did not reveal any fractures but Wells will undergo further tests Monday.
"We were running in and I could feel it wasn't in place anymore," Wells said. "I was hoping it would pop back in as I was running in but it didn't, so they told me I had to come out."
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 on July 26, and Tampa Bay was on the short end against Arizona's Edwin Jackson on June 26 and Oakland's Dallas Braden on 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 on Sept. 2, 1990, at Cleveland. The franchise record for strikeouts is 18, set by Roger Clemens against Kansas City on Aug. 25, 1998.
Morrow had retired 13 straight when plate umpire Jeff Kellogg ruled that he hit Bartlett with a pitch in the sixth. 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 Wells made his leaping catch that ultimately forced him out of the game. He was replaced by Travis Snider in the bottom half.
Johnson was the only Rays batter to reach base through the first eight innings, drawing a walk in the second and reaching on 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 shallow right.
Rays right-hander 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.
NOTES: Tampa Bay sent Niemann and RHP Wade Davis back to Florida to have their sore shoulders examined. RHP Jeremy Hellickson was held out of Sunday's start at Triple-A Durham in case Davis can't pitch Tuesday at Detroit. ... Blue Jays OF Fred Lewis was held out of the lineup for the second straight game, with Dewayne Wise starting in left. ... Molina recorded his first stolen base of the season.