Although Morrow getting past the fifth inning of this 3-1 win was somewhat uplifting, the sight of him still out there holding the Yankees hitless in the eighth was positively thrilling for Mariners fans who've waited all season for some good news.
The roars of anticipation from the crowd made it seem as if the past two years had been forgotten.
All the anxiety over whether the Mariners made a mistake by drafting Brandon Morrow instead of Tim Lincecum with their first-round pick in 2006. The second-guessing as to whether they’d left Morrow in the bullpen too long, well after oft-compared reliever Joba Chamberlain had transitioned to a starting role.
It was all a thing of the past Friday night as the Safeco Field throng watched Morrow, four outs from a no-hitter and a strike away from ending the eighth inning. And then, once Wilson Betemit delivered the only hit the New York Yankees would manage off him, the roars grew louder still.
The box score will show a 3-1 victory by Morrow and the Mariners in his first major-league start. But for Mariners players, executives and fans, desperately seeking good news in a season long lost, they hope this stunning, 106-pitch outing from Morrow was the start of something so much bigger.
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“Things work out, I guess, for a reason,” Morrow said with a shrug.
The jury is still out on how long-term Morrow’s early success will be. But the 39,518 fans, serenading Morrow with as long an ovation given any Mariner this year, delivered their verdict loud and clear.
They had seen the Mariners all but lock the game up on a third-inning sacrifice fly by Yuniesky Betancourt, then two more runs in the fourth off Yankees starter Andy Pettitte. But the wildest moments were still to come.
Morrow was well aware of what was going on, though his teammates remained silent in the dugout and kept far away.
“There are six scoreboards staring you in the face,” Morrow said with a smile. “So, it’s hard not to see.”
Mariners manager Jim Riggleman was only going to let Morrow throw 90 to 95 pitches. But everyone in the ballpark knew something special was brewing when Morrow, who had thrown 89 pitches through seven innings, came back out for the eighth.
“The whole bullpen had chills the entire game until he was taken out,” said Mariners closer J.J. Putz, who mentored Morrow from the moment he arrived in spring training last year, fresh out of college with no professional experience. “It was a treat. It was kind of like Felix last year in Boston.”
That game at Fenway Park saw Felix Hernandez throw a one-hitter over nine innings. But no pitcher had come this close to a no-hitter in his first major-league start since Billy Rohr of the Red Sox was an out away from achieving the feat against the Yankees on April 14, 1967.
The Morrow who left for Class AAA ball a month ago was a three-pitch hurler. But this time around, he added a nasty curveball to his fastball-slider-changeup trio and had the Yankees missing all night.
“I guess he’s throwing like he was in the bullpen,” Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter said. “He was just able to do it for a lot longer period of time.”
The high-90s fastballs Morrow threw in the early innings gave way to some of the roughly 15 change-ups he used. Morrow also gained further confidence in his curveball, a pitch he hadn’t trusted since college but worked on this past month.
“His stuff was electric tonight,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “You talk about trying to be patient with a guy. But he was strike, strike, strike with all of his pitches.”
Eight strikeouts, three walks and no hits later, an exhausted Morrow tried one curveball too many to pinch-hitter Betemit, who had been used for only two plate appearances the past 15 days. Betemit golfed the ball over Ichiro’s head in right field for a run-scoring double and the dream was over.
For this night, at least.
“If I’d gotten through that eighth, Riggleman was going to have a tough decision,” Morrow said. “I think he would have given me a shot to finish it.”
So does Riggleman, despite the obvious concerns about taxing Morrow’s arm. The patient Yankees had let only two pitchers — Cy Young Award contender Roy Halladay and the red-hot A.J. Burnett — go seven innings against them the past two weeks and Riggleman had felt going in that five or six frames from Morrow would be fantastic.
“If he had gone through that eighth inning and he’s got 105 pitches, we’ve got a real tough decision,” Riggleman said, before adding that: “I wish we’d have been in a position to make that call.”
The Mariners might get their chance yet.
Amid a raucous postgame celebration in the clubhouse, beer showers raining down on Morrow, existed a sentiment almost unheard of in these parts. The feeling that, for a franchise beset by its darkest hours, there is finally some hope.
• Injured Mariners starter Erik Bedard threw off a mound for the first time in two months before Friday’s game. All of the throws were straight fastballs at less than full velocity, designed to give Bedard the feel of throwing on a downward plane again. Riggleman could not say afterward whether Bedard will pitch again this season.
• Riggleman also could not say whether injured starter Jarrod Washburn, who has a sore abdominal muscle, will be able to make a start by next week. The team has yet to say who will start next Tuesday, though it’s widely assumed Hernandez will take the mound.
Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or firstname.lastname@example.org
For the record
vs. AL West: 17-24
vs. L.A.: 4-7
vs. Oakland: 6-7
vs. Texas: 7-10
vs. AL East: 14-28
vs. AL Cent.: 15-24
vs. NL: 9-9
vs. LHP: 19-28
vs. RHP: 36-57
Extra inn.: 5-7
Friday’s crowd: 39,518
Season total: 2,045,342
Biggest crowd: 46,334 (March 31)
Smallest crowd: 15,818 (May 6)
Average (70 dates): 29,219
2007 average (70 dates): 33,749