McGowan sharp in win over Yankees
Right-hander strikes out a career-high seven to lift Jays
TORONTO -- Dustin McGowan was finally able to loosen up and show his lighter side, laughing off his misfortune as a Blue Jays starter and joking about the considerable sideburns he sported on the mound on Monday night. Of course, dominating the Yankees might've had a little something to do with McGowan's amiable mood.
The 25-year-old pitcher easily turned in the best start of his young career at Rogers Centre, where New York's struggling lineup flailed some more in Toronto's 7-2 win. McGowan set multiple career bests in the outing, but the right-hander was simply thrilled to pick up a long-awaited victory -- something that's eluded him as a big-league starter for two years.
"It just felt good to get one," said the softspoken McGowan, who couldn't help but smile. "It's been bugging me. I didn't even have one in Triple-A this year. I haven't known what it feels like to get one in a while."
In fact, McGowan (1-2) hadn't earned a win as a starter for Toronto (23-27) since Aug. 9, 2005, which was his first season in the Majors. Entering Monday's outing, he was winless in four trips to the hill since being recalled from Triple-A Syracuse on May 3. With the Chiefs, McGowan posted a 1.64 ERA, but was 0-2 in five Minor League starts.
His winless ways came to an impressive end against the Yankees , who have now dropped four games in a row. McGowan finished with seven strikeouts and 117 pitches over 7 2/3 innings, each career highs for the starter. He walked just one and blanked New York (21-28) for the first seven frames.
"This kid really shut us down -- there's no question," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "I think we have to give him more credit than us blame [with] the way he threw the ball tonight. When a pitcher dominates like that, you really haven't hit the ball very hard."
Not bad for a starter who entered the game 1-7 with a 7.52 ERA in 14 career starts for the Blue Jays. Part of that inconsistency rests in the fact McGowan bounced between the rotation and bullpen over the past three seasons. Now, though, Toronto has every intention of keeping McGowan -- a first-round pick by the Jays in the 2000 First-Year Player Draft -- as a full-time starter for the remainder of the year.
After posting an 8.22 ERA in his first three starts, McGowan has recovered to post a 3.29 ERA in his last two appearances. Part of the difference has been limiting the type of big-run innings that have doomed him in the past. McGowan, whose ERA dropped to 5.90 from 7.17 on Monday, said the improvements deal simply with trusting in his own ability.
"Each time out there I'm starting to feel a lot better," McGowan said. "In the past, I had a tendency not to trust my stuff [or] trust myself. Now, I'm starting to trust a little more. When you trust your stuff, you can go right after guys. It's all about having a positive mind-set."
One of the players that McGowan went "right after" on Monday was Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez, who leads the Majors with 19 home runs. After McGowan commited a fielding error that allowed New York designated hitter Hideki Matsui to reach first base with one out in the sixth, the pitcher settled down and used five pitches to strike out Rodriguez. McGowan then forced Jorge Posada to ground into a fielder's choice that ended the threat.
"He's one of the best hitters in the game," said Blue Jays manager John Gibbons, referring to Rodriguez. "All that showed is what [McGowan] is capable of doing. He's got overpowering stuff. Now, it's just a matter of it all coming together and believing in himself. The sky's the limit."
It was one of a handful of jams that Toronto's young starter escaped. In the fourth, Rodriguez led off with a double before McGowan retired the next three hitters in order. New York had two runners reach base in the second, but McGowan induced a flyout off the bat of Doug Mientkiewicz to end the inning.
The only blemish on McGowan's line came in the eighth inning, when Gibbons opted to let the starter continue his gem. With two outs, New York shortstop Derek Jeter reached on an infield single, and then scored when Matsui belted a 1-1 pitch off Windows restaurant in center field for a two-run home run. With that, Gibbons turned to the bullpen.
"Dustin was awesome tonight. Maybe that's a breakthrough outing for him," Gibbons said. "He got in a couple jams and worked out of it -- damage control. We've seen progress in every one of his outings. So, he should be able to build on that."
Helping McGowan's cause were the seven runs of support. Lyle Overbay put the Blue Jays on the board in the third inning, when he sent a 3-1 pitch from Yankees starter Matt DeSalvo (1-2) deep to left-center field for a solo home run -- the first baseman's eight blast of the year. Toronto tacked on one run each in the fourth and fifth innings, and then broke through for four more in the seventh against New York reliever Ron Villone.
That was more than enough of a cushion for McGowan. Afterward, though, the pitcher grinned and gave some credit to the mutton chops he sported during the win.
"You've got to try something new, right?" McGowan said with a laugh. "I got a 'W.' So, I might have to keep these a little while."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.