The young pitcher stood behind the mound and took a moment to soak in the applause. Then, McGowan got three quick outs to complete the 17th one-hit performance in team history. It was the type of showing that Toronto has waited a long time to see from McGowan, who has been one of the organization's top prospects for several years.
"That was fun to watch," Blue Jays catcher Gregg Zaun said. "All along, ever since they drafted this kid, they've been expecting stuff like this from him, and he's certainly capable. Today was one of the better games I've seen him throw. He had everything going."
Even into the later innings, McGowan's overpowering fastball registered at 98 and 99 mph at times for the Blue Jays (37-37), who reached the break-even mark for the first time since May 1. He mixed in his deceptive changeup, had Colorado's hitters flailing at a hard slider, and buckled a few knees with his breaking ball.
Blue Jays designated hitter Frank Thomas, who belted his 499th career home run in the victory, has witnessed McGowan display that arsenal of pitches since before this season began. Thomas told McGowan just how rare his ability is after the big-league veteran of 18 years watched the 25-year-old McGowan throw in bullpen sessions this past spring.
"I''ve been telling him since Spring Training," Thomas said, "'Kid, you've got something special. You're not an average starter. You're a way above-average starter and you're stuff is electric. You can shut down teams for seven or eight innings like it's no big deal, any day of the week.'"
McGowan (4-3) did just that against Colorado (38-37), which has fallen victim to two no-hitters in its history. The right-hander was nearly perfect through the opening eight frames, retiring 24 of the 25 batters he faced. The lone exception was Rockies second baseman Kaz Matsui, who drew a walk in the fourth inning.
Before Baker's ninth-inning single, Colorado had a handful of would-be hits robbed by Toronto defenders.
On the first play of the game, Blue Jays shortstop John McDonald barely threw out fleet-footed Willy Taveres at first after scooping up a grounder. In the sixth, third baseman Howie Clark made a diving grab on a ground ball to his left, snaring a hit away from Colorado's Yorvit Torrealba.
Without those plays, McGowan knows he never would've had the opportunity to come within three outs of the first no-hitter for the Jays since Dave Stieb silenced the Indians in 1990.
"You kind of expect that from those guys," said McGowan, who became just the fifth Toronto pitcher to carry a no-hitter into the ninth inning. "Without them. I've got no chance. They deserve as much credit as I do."
Toronto manager John Gibbons was quick to commend McGowan on rebounding from his last trip to the mound. On Tuesday, the Dodgers collected six runs on eight hits in 1 2/3 innings agains McGowan, who lost for the first time since May 23. That turned out to only be a temporary setback.
"He was unbelievable," Gibbons said. "He's really been coming into his own since he arrived. He had that tough one the other night and he bounced back better than you ever hoped he would, which is a great sign. All that'll do is build confidence in himself."
McGowan wanted to move beyond that last appearance as quickly as possible.
"That was fun to watch. All along, ever since they drafted this kid, they've been expecting stuff like this from him, and he's certainly capable. Today was one of the better games I've seen him throw. He had everything going."
-- Jays catcher|
"When you have outings like the one I had, it's hard to put them behind you," he said. "People kept just drilling it in my head: 'You've got to put that behind you and not worry about it.' That's what I did. I forgot all about that outing. I had to focus on today and not let that distract me."
The Blue Jays handed a starting job to McGowan -- a first-round pick by Toronto in the 2000 First-Year Player Draft -- in early May, when left-hander Gustavo Chacin landed on the disabled list. McGowan had a rough start, posting a 7.17 ERA in his first four outings, but he has a 2.12 ERA over his last four wins.
His latest victory, which included a career-best seven strikeouts, was aided by home runs from Thomas and center fielder Vernon Wells. In the third, Wells belted a three-run shot off Colorado starter Josh Fogg (3-6), who then yielded a solo blast to Thomas to lead off the fourth.
Toronto added an insurance run in the sixth, but McGowan hardly needed the help. Around the fourth inning, McGowan said he began using his two-seam fastball and slider more than his other pitches. By the end, he had induced 14 outs via the ground ball and six through the air -- all while trusting in Zaun's calls from behind the plate.
"He shook me a couple times early in the game and he executed," Zaun said. "But after that, there wasn't any head movement out there. He just kept saying, 'Yes,' and kept pumping it in there.
"I pretty much just sat in the middle of the plate and called my pitches and let the ball work. He was hitting the mitt with pretty much everything today."
That includes the fateful 0-1 pitch to Baker in the ninth inning. If Zaun could take any solace from that moment, it was the fact that the lone hit for the Rockies was a hard liner up the middle -- not a bloop single.
"He put a good swing on a really good pitch and he was able to break up the no-hitter with a legitimate line drive," Zaun said. "I'm still kind of fighting my emotions right now, because I really wanted it for [McGowan].
"I was hoping and praying, because that would've been a huge moment for him and for the organization."