Marcum flirts with no-no before Jays fall

Marcum flirts with no-no before Jays fall

ARLINGTON -- Shaun Marcum's first pitch popped into the glove of Blue Jays catcher John Buck, the sound muffled by the buzz of the fans who packed into Rangers Ballpark on Monday afternoon. Strike one. Marcum had defied the odds to claim the top spot in Toronto's rotation and his return was now complete.

Marcum could let out a sigh of relief.

"That helped me calm down," Marcum said of the pitch. "Then it was just stick to the game plan."

Marcum could not have known the ride he and the Blue Jays were about experience.

In a 5-4 Opening Day loss to the Rangers, Marcum flirted with history, carrying a no-hitter into the seventh inning in his first big league game in two years. Toronto's offense flashed some power and delivered in the clutch, but the day ended with Texas' players storming the field to celebrate the Rangers' first walk-off victory in a season opener since 1980.

"What a way to start a season," Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston said. "We started almost with a no-hitter and it leads to a loss."

A blown save by newly anointed closer Jason Frasor in the bottom of the ninth provided the Blue Jays with their first taste of defeat in 2010. Expectations are tempered for a Toronto club in transition this season, especially given the landscape of the intimidating American League East.

The Blue Jays understand this as well as any of baseball's prognosticators, so the club will always try to sift through any wreckage to pull out the positives. The conclusion to the opening affair in Arlington was forgettable, but the performance from Marcum was not. That was what the Jays focused on in the wake of the first loss of the season.

"Watching Shaun pitch, he's where he wants to be," Blue Jays center fielder Vernon Wells said. "This early, looking that good, throwing strikes with everything, I think that's the most encouraging thing about this game."

A couple years ago, Marcum was viewed as one of the future cornerstones of Toronto's rotation. He is considered to be an integral piece to the Jays' plans once again, but only after returning strong from a year-long absence due to injury. Following the 2008 season, Marcum was forced to undergo Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.

After being sidelined for all of last season, Marcum showed he was over the past arm issues with a solid showing in Spring Training. With a vacancy atop their starting staff -- following the December trade that sent ace Roy Halladay to the Phillies -- the Blue Jays decided to hand the No. 1 role to the 28-year-old Marcum. Against Texas, he showed why.

Marcum's seven-inning outing -- his first Major League start for the Blue Jays since Sept. 16, 2008 -- began with a strikeout of Rangers center fielder Julio Borbon and ended with a groundout off the bat of Texas' Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Overall, Marcum was charged with three runs on just two hits, finishing with six strikeouts and one walk in a 92-pitch effort.

Through the first 21 batters, Marcum's changeups were dancing, and he showed strong command in holding the Rangers' potent lineup to no hits. In each of the 2007 and 2008 seasons, Marcum opened eight starts with at least six shutout innings. He carried a no-hitter through at least six frames on two occasions during his '07 campaign.

Marcum looked like he had not missed a beat.

"I remember like it was yesterday," Wells said. "You think of a guy like Greg Maddux, who relies on his movement and relies on hitting his spots. [Marcum has] that kind of potential."

History was not meant for Marcum on this afternoon, though.

With one out in the seventh, Marcum issued a walk to Josh Hamilton. Texas designated hitter Vladimir Guerrero followed by drilling an 0-1 offering into right field for a single, leading to an eruption of cheers from the 50,299 fans on hand. Nelson Cruz then reached down and caught up with a low pitch from Marcum, sending the baseball into the Rangers' bullpen for a three-run home run to knot the score at 3.

"The home run Nelson hit was a good pitch," Marcum said. "If he doesn't swing, it's probably called a ball and we're sitting there with a 3-2 count. You've got to give him some credit for getting some wood on it and getting it up in that jet stream and getting it out of here."

As a result of the Rangers' rally, the gem that Indians' great Bob Feller fashioned against the White Sox on April 16, 1940, remains the only no-hitter on Opening Day in baseball history. Likewise, Dave Stieb remains the only Blue Jays pitcher in team history to hold an opponent to no hits (Sept. 2, 1990 against Cleveland).

Cruz's swing effectively erased the early work of the Blue Jays' offense. Wells began his 3-for-4 day with a two-run homer off Rangers starter Scott Feldman, pushing Toronto to a 2-0 lead in the first inning. In the third, designated hitter Adam Lind yanked an offering from Feldman down the right-field line, where the baseball rocketed into the seats for a solo shot.

Marcum still managed to nearly walk away the winner, though. In the eighth inning, Rangers reliever Neftali Feliz slipped into a bases-loaded jam with one out after allowing a double and issuing two walks (one intentional). Wells came through again, this time sending an 0-2 pitch just beyond the reach of Texas shortstop Elvis Andrus for a single to give the Jays a 4-3 advantage.

Blue Jays setup man Scott Downs did his part, holding Texas in check in the bottom of the eighth. Frasor ran into trouble right away, though, surrendering a leadoff double to Michael Young in the ninth. Three batters later, Cruz pulled the game into a 4-4 deadlock with an RBI double that dropped into right. Saltalamacchia later ended things with a game-winning single.

Frasor was at a loss.

"I feel bad for Shaun," Frasor said. "What a performance."

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