Brandon Morrow was doing a masterful job of showing he had fully bounced back from a dismal outing last week against the Texas Rangers, dominating the Baltimore Orioles Wednesday night at Rogers Centre.
Then Wilson Betemit came to bat in the seventh inning.
Betemit lashed a line drive up the middle that careened off Morrow’s right leg, an ugly single the signalled the end of Morrow’s night.
Toronto manager John Farrell immediately rushed to the mound to check on Morrow’s condition.
Soon after, the pitcher, with one arm draped around Farrell’s shoulder and the other around assistant trainer Hap Hudson, slowly limped off the field, unable to put any weight on his damaged right leg.
The Blue Jays were leading 4-1 at the time and that’s the way the game ended, giving Toronto (27-24) an important three-game sweep of an American League East rival that came into the game tied for first place along with the Tampa Bay Rays.
Toronto scored all its runs with homers off Baltimore starting pitcher Jason Hammel. The Orioles (29-22) lost for the fifth consecutive time.
The Blue Jays announced that “precautionary X-rays” on Morrow’s right leg revealed nothing more than a shin contusion and his condition has been listed as day to day.
“Luckily it hit the muscle on the side of my shin,” Morrow said. “An inch or half an inch over it could have been a different story.”
That’s certainly good news for the Blue Jays, whose hopes of challenging for a playoff spot this season would be seriously compromised if their most consistent pitcher on the year were out for any extended period of time.
“Fortunately we were able – no pun intended – to dodge a bit of a bullet there,” Farrell said. “He does have a contusion on the outside of the right shin. X-rays at this point reveal it was negative, no fracture of any kind.”
Morrow was sailing along at the time of his injury, putting to rest any fears that may have been lingering as a result of the Texas game, in which he was punched out before even completing the first inning.
The Orioles actually got the first jump on Morrow, in the second inning when Ryan Flaherty singled home Mark Reynolds for a 1-0 Baltimore lead.
But Morrow was just getting warmed up and his optimism no doubt got fuelled in Toronto’s bottom half of the inning, when Edwin Encarnacion began the home run parade, swatting his 17th of the season to left field to tie the score.
The Blue Jays pulled ahead in the third when Rajai Davis, looking good in left field since deposing Eric Thames, belted his third home run to move Toronto in front 2-1.
Then Brett Lawrie jumped in, knocking his fourth of the year to straightaway centre in the fourth. Toronto’s fourth homer of the night came from Colby Rasmus in the fifth.
For Lawrie, it was his first home run since May 1 against Texas and his third extra base hit in as many games, giving him 10 on the season in 182 at-bats.
It is a surprisingly low total for a player who raked major-league pitching when he was promoted from the minors last season, with 21 of his 44 hits going for extra bases.
“I think he’s really stayed behind the baseball and had a little bit more leverage on his swing to drive the ball into the gap,” Farrell said about Lawrie’s improved swing before the game.
After getting touched up by the lone Baltimore run in the second inning, Morrow got down to business, facing the minimum nine batters over the next three innings.
In the fourth inning, Morrow struck out the side with Betemit his third victim, missing badly on an 89-mile an hour slider out of the strike zone.
In raising his record to 6-3 on the year, Morrow allowed the lone Baltimore run off four hits while striking out eight over the 6 1/3 innings he worked.
Carlos Villanueva, Francisco Cordero and Casey Janssen, who came on to earn the save in the ninth, provided perfect work in relief of Morrow.