TORONTO - If ever there was a game that cried out for something, anything, to pierce the tedium, this was it.
The Boston Red Sox were pounding mercilessly on the Toronto Blue Jays starter Luis Perez and then reliever Rommie Lewis. It was 11-0 after four innings (on the way to a 14-0 final) Tuesday at the Rogers Centre. With Boston's Jon Lester working his usual efficient mastery of Toronto, there was absolutely no hope of things getting better as the game went on.
Then, at the top of the fifth, the Jays bullpen door opened, out popped Dustin McGowan and the evening suddenly presented a Hallmark moment.
In the movie version, McGowan takes down the Red Sox, three-up, three-down.
In reality, he gave up a single, two doubles and two runs.
But what did you expect? The guy is working on 1,155 days rest.
He didn’t get around to the three-up, three-down thing until his second inning of work.
In all, McGowan worked four innings plus two batters in the ninth, gave up three runs on five hits and three walks, striking out five.
McGowan last pitched in a major league game on July 8, 2008. Since then, he’s had one medical catastrophe after another and three or four false starts toward recovery before his latest one stuck.
The very fact that he was able to get back on a major-league mound after an absence of 38 months is a marvel in itself and a tribute to his own persistence, the club's trust in him and their determined medical staff.
“I called Dustin on Friday from New York and asked him if he was ready to come to Toronto,” said Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos. “That was a call that felt good to make.
“He deserves a world of credit, but let me tell you about our trainers. We believe in Dustin but every year I’d want to know what they think. There were setbacks but (head trainer) George Poulos really led the charge.
“He kept saying, ‘Give me another shot with this guy,’ and he kept on being right. We always believed in the player but George really pounded the table to keep him.”
Staked to a 4-0 lead before his first pitch, Lester subdued the Jays over seven innings on three hits, a walk and 11 strikeouts, to stretch his career record against Toronto to 9-4.
But for Toronto, the only story that mattered this night was McGowan’s.
“I wasn’t as sharp and strong as I once was, but I think that’s going to come as I get further away from the injury,” McGowan said.
Ironically, Jays manager John Farrell was Lester’s pitching coach when Boston lefty came back to the big leagues after two years battling a form of cancer. Remembering that comeback fills Farrell with pride and affection.
Now, Farrell is managing in Toronto. While he doesn't have that same history with McGowan as he does with Lester, he couldn’t hide his emotions Tuesday night.
“Anytime you have pitchers that take a detour for whatever reason, there’s a personal victory that’s going on there,” said Farrell. “Having experienced two-and-a-half years of rehab myself and knowing what that loneliness can be and to see (McGowan) walk out there tonight like this, it’s a good first step.”
McGowan will probably continue to pitch in relief, but that is subject to change.
“We go into the offseason with questions about our pitching staff and particularly our rotation,” said Farrell. “This is a first step toward a significant development here tonight.
“A 94-95 mph fastball? Four pitches for strikes? That’s a pretty good recipe right there. It was very encouraging to see the late action to his slider and the command of his changeup.”
In his first inning of work, McGowan was, naturally, strung out on adrenaline.
“First inning I was so pumped up and everything I threw was up,” he said. “Second inning I thought, you know I’ve been doing this a long time. It’s just like pitching in single A and double A. You’ve still got to face the batters, throw the pitches where you want to and get them out.
“To go through what I did for those years, if that doesn’t break you then this should be cake. When you get out there you should be ready to go.”
Loewen's long climb
Tuesday, the Jays announced six more call-ups, including outfielder Adam Loewen who, like McGowan, is trying to meet the odds. Loewen was a first-round pick of the Orioles in 2002 as a left-handed pitcher. When he blew out his arm in 2008, he was given the opportunity to try to convert to a position player by the Jays and has spent three years in the minors, pursuing his big-league dream.
“His swing is so much better than when we first signed him ... night and day,” said Anthopoulos. “He can draw a walk, he’s moving better in the outfield, great makeup. It’s a success story to do what he has done and get back to this level. How many guys can do that? Not as a charity case but as a guy who earned it.
“It’s a guy with upside. What can he be down the road? I’m not sure. He can play first, he can play the outfield, he can run. You think at minimum he could have a bench role. He’s a left-handed bat who can draw a walk. He fits. It’ll come down to how much the bat plays.”
In addition, the Jays called up Brad Mills, Kyle Drabek, Chad Beck and Daniel Farquhar to help their beleaguered bullpen. The club also called up first baseman David Cooper.
Drabek started the season with the Jays, but was sent down to triple-A Las Vegas in June after a shaky start
“As we’ve often said, we think it’s important for (Drabek) to be here and finishing things out on a positive note to take him further on his continued development,” Farrell said.
Charlie hustle award
Never one to leave a stone unturned, Anthopoulos picked the brain of none other than Pete Rose in evaluating his Las Vegas roster.
“At the game in Las Vegas on Saturday, I was sitting with one of our scouts (Steve Springer) and I didn’t realize it but Pete Rose was sitting two rows behind me,” said Anthopoulos. “He asked to come down and sit with me an inning or two. Who am I to say no to that?
“Turns out he’s in Vegas for 25 days a month and comes to see the team a lot. I started to pick his brain a little bit about our players and he bent my ear about Chad Beck. He really likes him.”
Beck has been a starter in the Blue Jays chain, but the club wants to turn him into a power arm out of the pen. Right now, they’re interested in him as a middle reliever, but that could grow into something more.