In this season, with that team, the shock factor is gone.
The bigger headline was that the Rays avoided another plunge into the history books, during a season in which five no-hitters have been witnessed around the majors.
Forget about building an open-air ballpark, minus the catwalks. This franchise needs another nickname change. I suggest the Tampa Bay Aughts.
The Rays are one of the most exciting teams in baseball. They are also the team to face if you’re a pitcher interested in making history.
Consider the following events, over the last year and change: Mark Buehrle threw a perfect game against the Rays on July 23, 2009. Dallas Braden did the same on May 9 this year. Then Edwin Jackson, a former Ray, no-hit Tampa Bay on June 25.
At least Matt Garza got the Rays on the board two weeks ago, with the first no-hitter in franchise history.
But there was Toronto’s Brandon Morrow on Sunday afternoon, nearly giving The Other Guys a 4-1 lead in the Nada Series.
Mercifully for Tampa Bay, commercial star/third baseman Evan Longoria dribbled a single off the glove of a diving Aaron Hill with two out in the ninth inning. It is a statement of fact, not cliché, to suggest that Morrow missed his no-hitter by a matter of inches.
With the Rays involved, it was a surprise that Morrow didn’t complete the feat.
What can possibly explain the Rays’ susceptibility to being zeroed?
On three occasions — the Buehrle and Braden perfect games, along with Morrow’s near-miss — the Tampa Bay bats were sleepy on a getaway day. That is baseball-speak for series-ending afternoon games that follow night games, when regulars are tired and reserves are often in the lineup.
It stands to reason that there are fewer quality swings under those circumstances. That is true for all teams — not just the Rays — particularly in an era where amphetamines are banned.
But the Rays can’t simply point to the start time for an explanation. Buehrle, Braden and Morrow each faced a Tampa Bay lineup that included Longoria, Jason Bartlett, B.J. Upton, Carl Crawford and Ben Zobrist.
At the time of the Jackson no-hitter, the Rays became the first team since the 2001 Padres to be no-hit twice in the same season, according to STATS LLC. Had Longoria’s ball been one foot to the left, Tampa Bay would be the first team — ever — to be no-hit three times in a season.
Now, though, the Rays need to be far more concerned with present woes than their place in history.
They have lost five straight and trail the Yankees by two games in the American League East. The skid has welcomed the Red Sox and Twins back into the wild card race. And now comes word that two Tampa Bay starting pitchers, Jeff Niemann and Wade Davis, must see the doctor because of sore shoulders.
Morrow stayed on the mound after Longoria’s well-placed squib to complete a 17-strikeout, one-hit shutout. The Blue Jays won, 1-0, completing a triumphant weekend that also included the smashing debut of catcher J.P. Arencibia.
I wonder what the Seattle Mariners were thinking as they watched Sunday’s events unfold, from some 2,500 miles away. They traded Morrow to the Blue Jays last offseason for reliever Brandon League, who has done a decent job … but is underutilized with a team that has relatively few late leads to protect.
Morrow was known to some Seattle fans as the guy the Mariners picked instead of Tim Lincecum. Still, he has a higher ceiling than League. He is starting to demonstrate that now.
So, it could be said on Sunday that the Blue Jays swept a series while winning the Morrow-League trade. The Rays, meanwhile, departed for Detroit without again etching their names in the Annals of Zilch.