A pitcher taking a no-hitter into the late innings nearly goes nuts when his team is batting because baseball superstition dictates that nobody in the dugout talks to him. The pitcher sits and sits, anxiously waiting for three outs so he can get back to the mound.
Brandon Morrow's(notes) experience was different. The Toronto Blue Jays right-hander had no problem filling his down time Sunday while setting down the Tampa Bay Rays inning after inning. He checked his blood sugar. He sipped just the right amount of a sports drink. He knew that if he felt too low or too high, not only would any chance of a no-hitter be dashed, his body could shake uncontrollably, his vision could blur and he might not know where he was, let alone what he was doing.
Morrow has Type 1 diabetes. The only time he takes off his insulin pump is when he pitches, so between innings his first thought isn't about his arm, it's about his blood-sugar level. And moments after losing the no-hitter with two out in the ninth but finishing off a masterful 17-strikeout, 1-0 victory for his first career complete game, Morrow fought through the swirl of emotions and went about the dispassionate self-diagnosis that has become his routine.
"I check my blood sugar more on a start day because I have a tendency to get low during warmups," he said last month. "Sometimes I try to be too perfect in keeping my blood sugar levels right and I give myself a touch too much insulin and I fall a little low and I'll need a Gatorade before the game starts. Then I have to check again after the first inning and after the second, and usually from there I'm all right."
The spate of no-hitters (there have been six) and near no-hitters (three have been spoiled in the ninth) this season has reinforced the notion that every player has an interesting backstory waiting to be told.
We learned that Dallas Braden(notes) of the Oakland Athletics was raised in a Stockton, Calif., motel by his grandmother – but not until he pitched a perfect game on Mothers Day. We learned that Ubaldo Jimenez(notes) of the Colorado Rockies likely would be a doctor in the Dominican Republic were it not for his cannon of a right arm – but not until he pitched a no-hitter in April. We gained insight into the machine-like Roy Halladay(notes), the mercurial Matt Garza(notes) and the nomadic Edwin Jackson(notes) on the days they pitched no-hitters.
And we perhaps learned the most about Armando Galarraga(notes), the Detroit Tigers right-hander who displayed exceptional grace and sportsmanship after losing a perfect game June 2 on an umpire's blown call with two out in the ninth.
About Morrow we learned not only that he has a disease that afflicts more than 23 million Americans, but that he has the discipline and self-awareness to keep it in check while performing at the highest level. He also displayed the fortitude to win the game after his no-hit hopes were dashed.
Morrow's fastball was live and his slider devastating throughout. The only ball close to a hit until the ninth was a drive by Ben Zobrist(notes) in the sixth that Vernon Wells(notes) caught before slamming into the outfield wall. The 17 strikeouts were one short of the Blue Jays' record set by Roger Clemens in 1998.
With two out in the ninth, Evan Longoria(notes) took an outside fastball on a 1-1 count and slapped a ground ball between first and second. Second baseman Aaron Hill(notes) nearly made the play on a dive to his left, but the ball squirted from his glove when his arm hit the ground. After a visit to the mound from manager Cito Gaston, Morrow struck out Dan Johnson(notes) to end the game.
"That's my first complete game and first shutout," Morrow said. "Those things combined are more than enough to overcome the feeling of just missing a no-hitter. That would have been a great feat but I'll start with a complete game, one-hit shutout with 17 strikeouts."
Not a word about his diabetes. As long as he's attentive to it, Morrow believes it is immaterial. However, his condition played a role in his former team, the Seattle Mariners, moving him to the bullpen after he was drafted No. 5 overall in 2006, ahead of Tim Lincecum(notes) and Clayton Kershaw(notes) and two picks behind Longoria. The Mariners knew Morrow had been diagnosed as a diabetic in high school and were concerned about his stamina.
"In the bullpen I had a routine where I'd check my blood sugar in the fifth inning and make sure everything was all right," he said. "I'd usually have a protein bar or something to give me some energy and then I'd take my pump off, stretch and get ready for the game."
He made 100 relief appearances in 2007 and 2008, then made 10 starts and 15 relief appearances in 2009 before being traded after the season to the Blue Jays for reliever Brandon League(notes) and minor league pitcher Johermyn Chavez. Toronto immediately thrust him into the rotation and after a slow start Morrow, 25, has been solid since late May, going 5-1 in his last 12 starts and watching his ERA drop from 6.66 to 4.45.
The near no-hitter offered a glimpse into his potential. And the performance also raised awareness about his battle with diabetes.
"It's all about routine," Morrow said. "You got to keep your sugar levels stable and in a good range. So, develop your routine, especially on game days. It doesn't have to be a worry."
The way this season is going, a pitcher flirting with or finishing off a no-hitter is likely to happen again, at which time another fascinating backstory will gain a wider audience.
Morrow today, who tomorrow?