When the late Tom Cheek was properly honoured by the Toronto Blue Jays in a pre-game ceremony on Aug. 29, 2004, New York Yankees starter Mike Mussina complained that the extra 15 minutes he'd been forced to wait had thrown off his pre-game routine. It was vintage whining from a vintage whiner.
Brandon Morrow missed the strike zone on his first five pitches Sunday against the Texas Rangers following pre-game ceremonies honouring the retirement of Roberto Alomar's uniform No. 12 - ceremonies that went on a tick longer than expected. But Endy Chavez, who drew a lead-off walk on four pitches that were nowhere near the strike zone, was thrown out stealing second, and all Morrow talked about later was how it affected him "a little bit, maybe," but how "awesome" the Rogers Centre is when it's filled up.
"Even if you have 20,000 people in here, it can still feel empty because it's such a large building," Morrow said, after setting a season high with 11 strikeouts as the Jays won 7-3 in front of a sell-out crowd of 45,629 that was the largest non-Opening Day home crowd for the Jays since April 19, 2003.
Morrow, whose career-high is 17 strikeouts, didn't allow the Rangers to sit on his fastball.
"It allowed him to slow down their bats," said manager John Farrell.
Morrow's modus operandi was clear in the first inning: he struck out Omar Quintanilla and Josh Hamilton on sliders.
Morrow is widely considered to be the next Blue Jays player in line for a multi-year contract. But he said the club has not started negotiations with the Wasserman Group, which represents him.
Alomar, who last weekend became the first player to go into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown wearing a Blue Jays cap, was feted in a pre-game ceremony in which his former manager, Cito Gaston, attended along with former teammates Candy Maldonado, Kelly Gruber, Devon White and Duane Ward, as well as his roommate from Puerto Rico, Carlos Baerga.
In addition to a banner over the Rogers Centre video board, a banner with Alomar's No. 12 was erected above Gate 8. The first 20,000 fans received Roberto Alomar bobbleheads, and based on the empty seats in the second inning it appeared many showed up for the dolls and ceremony and took off.
But after Morrow struck out Hamilton to end the top of the first, Edwin Encarnacion slugged his ninth home run of the season, a two-run shot with Jose Bautista on second after a walk and wild pitch.
"That seemed to set everybody off," said Farrell. Encarnacion is 9-for-24 (.375) in his last seven games with four doubles and a homer and has an OPS more than 1.000 since July 7.
Jose Bautista has gone 14 games without a home run, his longest dry spell since a 24-game, 77-at-bat gap from July 28-Sept. 5, 2009. Bautista and his teammates have Monday off before opening a three-game series against the meat of the Tampa Bay Rays rotation: David Price, James Shields and Wade Davis. Bautista has hit three career homers in 23 plate appearances against Price and two in 19 plate appearances against Shields. But Bautista has had trouble at Tropicana Field, with one career homer and a .234 average.
ARENCIBIA ON A ROLL
Blue Jays catcher J.P. Arencibia's 17 homers are the fourth-most by a Blue Jays rookie, leaving him seven back of Eric Hinske's club record of 24 set in 2002. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Arencibia's homer on Friday made him the first player to hit five homers in a six-game span out of the No. 9 spot in the batting order since Dale Sveum of the 1987 Milwaukee Brewers. Before Sveum, Don Drysdale of the 1958 Los Angeles Dodgers was the last player to do so. Any day you can get Drysdale's name in a newspaper is a good day.