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Buck's big hit backs Morrow as Jays sweep

Buck's big hit backs Morrow as Jays sweep

TORONTO -- Brandon Morrow swiftly slipped into a dangerous situation early in the Jays' 5-2 win on Sunday afternoon against the Rangers. Two batters into the first inning, the Blue Jays starter had runners on the corners, no outs and Texas slugger Josh Hamilton at the plate.

Morrow fired a changeup, which Hamilton watched for a ball, working the count full. Undeterred, Morrow went with the same pitch again -- this time tempting Hamilton to swing. Rangers third baseman Michael Young bolted toward second base on the pitch, which flew by Hamilton's bat, popping into the glove of Toronto catcher John Buck for a strikeout.

Buck quickly unleashed the ball across the diamond to second base, where Blue Jays shortstop Alex Gonzalez applied a tag on Young for the inning's second out. Morrow finished the first with a strikeout of Nelson Cruz, settling in and setting the tone as the Jays completed the sweep over the Rangers at Rogers Centre.

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"That was huge," said Morrow, referring to the early escape act. "It got me out of trouble right away."

That was a welcome development for the Blue Jays, who watched Morrow garner just five outs among the 14 Red Sox hitters he faced in a disastrous outing on Monday. Morrow labored with his mechanics throughout that abbreviated showing, but was determined to sort out what went awry in time for this start against the Rangers.

"I threw that one out," Morrow said of his forgettable performance in Boston. "I was just mad about the game for a day and then figured, 'Hey, I'll just watch some video and get it right.'"

Morrow (3-3) made up for things with six solid innings, limiting Texas' potent lineup to two runs on eight hits. The right-hander walked just one -- this after issuing 10 free passes over his last two turns -- and ended with eight strikeouts en route to a win. During one stretch between the second and fifth innings, Morrow set down 10 of the 11 hitters he faced.

The difference for Morrow rested both with his mechanics and approach. Fellow Jays starter Shaun Marcum pointed out that Morrow was not staying tall through his delivery -- an issue the right-hander worked on this week. Buck helped devise a game plan that focused on Morrow's offspeed pitches, taking some emphasis off the pitcher's hard four-seam fastball.

Together, the changes resulted in a solid showing. Toronto has now won four games in a row and has collected 11 victories in its past 14 games. The Jays also improved to 5-1 against the Rangers (20-18) and 8-5 against American League West foes this season.

"He was able to pitch today," Buck said about Morrow. "In the last couple outings, he was just kind of throwing. He pitched. By design, we talked about using all his stuff a lot earlier -- even before we really had to -- just so that he could get the feel with his pitches rather than just throwing them."

The Blue Jays' offense provided Morrow with all the support he needed in the fourth inning, when Rangers righty Colby Lewis (3-2) was victimized for four runs. Three came on one swing from Buck, who drilled a pitch from Lewis deep to center field for a bases-loaded double -- a shot that initially looked like a home run.

"I thought it was out," Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston said.

Gaston emerged from the dugout to discuss the play with the umpires, who then reviewed Buck's hit. Replays showed that the baseball bounced off the wall in center field, though shadows in the stadium made it difficult to see with the naked eye. Buck did not see the ball land, but the Jays catcher never felt it was a homer.

"When I hit it, I didn't think it was out," Buck said. "But the way everybody was reacting, that's why I didn't go past second. I didn't think it was out. I wanted the umpire to tell me it was out first, because I didn't believe it. It didn't feel right off the bat.

"Whether it went out or not, it got us some runs."

Buck's bases-clearing double provided the Blue Jays with a 4-1 lead. A solo home run off the bat of Jose Bautista in the sixth inning added another insurance run. The cushion helped Toronto's cause in the seventh, when Texas attempted to piece together a late rally.

Morrow issued a leadoff walk to Justin Smoak and then allowed consecutive singles to load the bases with no outs for the Rangers. Gaston then turned to reliever Jason Frasor, who induced a double-play groundout off the bat of Vladimir Guerrero that plated one run for Texas. One more groundout and Frasor and the Jays escaped with a 5-2 lead intact.

"That was big right there," Gaston said. "[Frasor] did a good job for us coming in there. He got a tough hitter out in Guerrero, who seems to rise to the occasion when there are guys in scoring position."

Following Frasor, Blue Jays reliever Scott Downs held the Rangers in check in the eighth inning and closer Kevin Gregg notched his 11th save of the season in the ninth. It was the way Morrow escaped the first -- an inning in which he had posted a 7.71 ERA entering the start -- that stood out in the end.

"Considering his last couple outings," Buck agreed. "That seems like when he's got hurt has been those first couple innings. So, to be able to get that and have Hamilton, for one, strike out -- he's obviously a good hitter -- and to be able to throw [Young] out and get two outs right there in that situation, that was huge."

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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