Rays avert no-no, fall to Blue Jays

Rays avert no-no, fall to Blue Jays

TORONTO -- Rays manager Joe Maddon wears his knee-high baseball socks for a reason -- a tribute to the late Pants Rowland, manager of the 1917 White Sox.

While the two managed nearly a century apart, and the complexion of the game has changed drastically since, the two share one common bond -- they managed the only two teams to be no-hit twice in one season.

Fortunately for Rowland, he went on to win the World Series. As for Maddon, the fate of his club has yet to be determined.

The Rays inevitably dropped Sunday's contest 1-0 to the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre, extending their current losing streak to five games. Nevertheless, with two outs in the ninth, the superstitious Maddon was able to breathe a sigh of relief.

Thanks to an Evan Longoria single that nearly ignited a Rays comeback, Blue Jays starter Brandon Morrow's no-hit bid was disrupted, and Maddon was able to rightfully retain his place alongside Rowland in the history books.

"I don't want to exceed the accomplishments of Pants in 1917," exclaimed Maddon half jokingly. "I was really concerned about that. I mean that was my major concern going into the eighth and ninth inning. I was really channeling my inner-Pants in the last two innings in an attempt [to break up the no-hitter].

Morrow was locked in all afternoon for the Jays, allowing only four baserunners -- one hit, two walks, and one error -- while racking up a career-high 17 strikeouts. He became almost the fourth pitcher over the past 13 months to no-hit the Rays -- Mark Buehrle, Dallas Braden and Edwin Jackson being the previous three to accomplish the feat. The Rays also had one no-hitter of their own this season, coming at the hands of Matt Garza on July 26 against the Tigers.

With one out in the ninth, Ben Zobrist drew a four-pitch walk from a visibly pumped up Morrow. After inducing Carl Crawford to fly out to left field, Morrow settled in to face Longoria. With both the no-hit bid and the ballgame hanging in the balance, the righty threw a high fastball that Longoria grounded to the right side, just off the glove of a sprawling Aaron Hill.

Jays manager Cito Gaston paid Morrow a quick mound visit, but permitted the 26-year old to remain in the game to face No. 4 hitter Dan Johnson, with runners on first and third. After working Morrow for an eight-pitch at-bat, Johnson, like many Rays before him, went down swinging to end the threat.

"He was throwing that slider," said a baffled Johnson. "We were chasing it, and when we weren't chasing it he was throwing it for strikes. He had real good action on it, and it was coming out the same way his fastball was. And when you're throwing 93-94 mph on your fastball it's tough to lay off on a pitch that's maybe six miles slower, breaking towards the dirt. I think that kept us off-balance the whole day."

The Rays had another chance to do some damage off Morrow in the sixth, but a leaping grab at the wall from Vernon Wells robbed Zobrist of what would have likely been a double.

Over the Rays' five-game skid, the club has hit just .149. Maddon cited his team's high-strikeout rate as a source for concern, but ultimately remained even-kealed about his team's Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Hyde offense.

"Again, I like our names," Maddon said. "Zobrist [has] got to get back up. Crawford is coming off a couple days [off]. Longoria I thought looked a lot better today. [Johnson] has been a shot in the arm.

"Of course you're always looking to improve yourself externally, but I do believe the guys that are here can carry us -- that we can't do better. I believe that."

Despite being outdueled by Morrow, Sonnanstine, filling in for the injured Jeff Niemann, managed to give the Rays 5 1/3 solid innings on Sunday. The right-hander threw 77 pitches, surrendering just one run on three hits and three walks. Sonnanstine's lone blemish came in the first inning, on a two-out Wells RBI single to right field that landed perfectly between three sprawling Rays.

"That makes me go back and look at the [Yunel] Escobar walk," said Sonnanstine, who walked the shortstop after nearly being struck by a ball up-the-middle. "Maybe if I take a little bit more of a breather, I'm locked in to face Escobar. That was the pitch I wanted to get Vernon out with -- a cutter up and away. He just fisted it over and with those you kind of just have to tip your cap."

Sonnanstine, who has served as a reliever for the Rays this season, last made a Major League start on Sept. 16, 2009, against the Orioles. He was replaced by left-hander Randy Choate with one out and one on in the sixth.

Maddon was pulling out all the stops in an attempt to keep his team afloat, including somewhat of a stall tactic in the game's sixth. Shortstop Jason Bartlett was awarded first base after appearing to be struck by a pitch. The call was overturned, springing Maddon from the dugout.

"It was in the back of my mind," said Maddon of the prolonged dispute. "I thought the longer I stayed out there -- he might make a mistake. He didn't."

While nothing seems to be going right for the Rays, who remain in second place in the American League East, they do have one thing to be thankful for.

"I want to be in [Pants'] company," Maddon said. "I don't want to create a different category."

James Hall is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.