The man whom many believe could be the catalyst to a successful season for the Toronto Blue Jays sat quietly, as he usually does before starts, at a table in the team’s clubhouse, pen in hand, absorbed in a crossword puzzle.
On this occasion, several hours before he took the mound to face the Houston Astros at Rogers Centre on Wednesday night, Brandon Morrow is joined by relief pitcher Todd Redmond.
As Morrow concentrated on his words, Redmond turned his attention to an outdoors show that was being broadcast on a nearby television screen extolling the virtues of hunting big game using a bow and arrow.
“There she goes,” Redmond remarked after one camouflaged hunter finds his mark, staggering a huge buck that eventually keels over on the side of a small incline in some meadow, kicking up a leg or two in one final act of defiance before finally going still.
Morrow glanced at the screen just in time to see the unfortunate beast in its death throes before noticing that a reporter was also watching nearby.
“Terrible,” Morrow said, before returning his attention back to his crossword.
In some ways, Morrow is like that big-game hunter, only his prey is the elusive consistency that has always appeared to be within his range before suddenly ducking out of site like a deer behind a tree.
This season, if the Blue Jays are to step up and compete with the big boys of the American League East, they need a healthy and productive Morrow to lead the way – as he did on Wednesday against the Astros.
Unlike last Thursday in his season debut in Tampa where he struggled with his control, Morrow was overpowering early on and the Blue Jays (5-4) responded with a 7-3 victory, their second win in as many nights over the hapless Astros (3-6).
Morrow went six innings, in which he gave up three Houston runs off five hits while striking out nine.
Toronto third baseman Brett Lawrie, who has been struggling at the plate, broke through with his first home run of the season, a two-run shot in the seventh that finally laid the Astros to rest.
With the win, the Blue Jays earned their first series victory of the season and will try for the three-game sweep Thursday night.
The Blue Jays have always spoken in glowing terms of Morrow and his vast potential as a starter, even though he has never won more than 11 games in one season.
In the past two years, Morrow has been limited to just 31 starts because of injuries.
Through the first few innings against the Astros it is easy to understand why the right-hander conjures up such high expectations.
One by one, the Astro hitters failed miserably as Morrow flirted with a perfect game, striking out the side in the first inning with a fastball that snapped, crackled and popped in velocity that repeatedly attained 98 miles an hour.
Two more strikeouts followed in the second inning and another in the third as Morrow faced the minimum of nine batters over the first three frames.
"I felt good the whole way through," Morrow said afterward. "I think the long inning right there [before the sixth] kind of killed me a little bit. They jumped on some early pitches that I didn't locate very well and got themselves on the board. But offence did a good job, bullpen came in a did a great job."
In the meantime, the Toronto offence did its part, putting up a 2-0 lead in the first on an RBI double by Jose Bautista and then a single by Adam Lind that brought his teammate home.
Bautista has now reached base safely in all nine games the Blue Jays have played this season.
The suspense of the perfect game ended when Morrow walked Dexter Fowler, Houston’s leadoff batter, in the fourth. Jason Castro then ended the no-hit bid with a single to left.
Toronto tagged on three more runs in the fifth inning to take a 5-0 lead.
Two of the runs were courtesy of a bad throwing error by Astros third baseman Matt Dominguez, who tossed the ball high into right field on a tailor-made double play.
Morrow eventually faltered in the sixth inning, where he surrendered three runs, including two on a home run off the bat of Alex Presley.
That was it for Morrow, who gave way to right-handed reliever Neil Wagner, who only earlier in the day was brought up from Toronto’s Triple-A team in Buffalo.
Pitcher Marcus Walden was optioned back to Buffalo to make room on the roster.
Steve Delabar came into the game in the ninth in a non-save situation for the Jays but had to depart after he took a hard-hit grounder from Jose Altuve off his knee.
Esmil Rogers then came on to retire the final two batters.