This was almost the night.
Romero was six outs away from accomplishing something that only Dave Stieb had done for Toronto. On Sept. 2, 1990, Stieb spun a no-hitter on the road against the Indians -- finally finding a place in the record books after falling one out short in three previous attempts. On Opening Day on April 5 this year, Shaun Marcum lost a no-hit bid with one out in the seventh inning against the Rangers.
The pitch that had been Romero's weapon of choice all evening against the White Sox ultimately cost him his shot at history. Chicago center fielder Alex Rios -- booed mercilessly in each of the past two games in his former home stadium -- sent a 2-1 changeup from Romero crashing into the left-field seats for a two-run home run.
Romero turned and watched, then lifted his glove over his mouth and yelled in disgust.
"I don't think the words I said I can say on camera," Romero said with a laugh. "It's one of those things where you feel it's so close. You know you're so close."
As Rios made his way around the bases, the stunned fans slowly shifted from a soft hum to loud cheers, culminating in a standing ovation. Romero then used three consecutive groundouts to breeze through the rest of the inning before heading back the dugout. His teammates shook his hand and the fans roared with approval.
"We were just in awe," Blue Jays center fielder Vernon Wells said. "It was one of the most dominant performances I've seen as a Blue Jay. It was fun to be a part of."
That is high praise coming from Wells, considering his view from center field was ideal for the many gems fashioned by former Blue Jays ace Roy Halladay in recent seasons. Last year as a rookie, Romero emerged as the most consistent starter behind Halladay, who was traded to the Phillies over the offseason.
One of Doc Halladay's trademarks in his years with the Blue Jays was his ability to guide his team to victory immediately after tough losses. On Monday night, Toronto dropped an 8-7 heartbreaker in 11 innings to Chicago. Romero answered with a stellar performance that helped the Jays run their record to 6-2 through the season's first eight games.
"He did just what Doc would do after tough losses," Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston said, "come back and shut the other team out and give us a chance to win. That's exactly what he did."
Through the first seven innings, Romero cruised through 23 Chicago hitters without surrendering a hit. His bid for perfection ended in the form of a fourth-inning walk to Carlos Quentin, but that hardly derailed Romero's performance. Six pitches later, the lefty struck out Paul Konerko and settled back in for the Blue Jays.
Not typically known for a high volume of strikeouts, Romero fanned two White Sox hitters in each of the first six innings. The 12 strikeouts marked a career high and the most by a Toronto left-hander since Ted Lilly struck out a dozen on June 10, 2006. Romero's out-pitch was his changeup, but all of his pitches were working in unison.
"He had four, five, six pitches going," said Jays catcher John Buck, shaking his head and smiling. "He was able to throw his sinker, cutter, four-seamer. I think what really helped that changeup was he was able to get strikes ahead with his breaking ball, which just gave him a whole different look."
The Jays' offense provided ample support with a two-run outburst in each of the third and fifth innings. Wells and Lyle Overbay each delivered RBI hits off White Sox starter Gavin Floyd in the third to put Toronto ahead, 2-0. In the fifth, Overbay beat out a would-be inning-ending double play, helping pave the way for a two-run double from Edwin Encarnacion, increasing Toronto's lead to 4-0.
In the eighth inning, Romero's first pitch dove sharply inside to White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski, who danced out of the way of the errant offering. The ball appeared to strike the dirt, but Pierzynski hopped up the first-base line and home-plate umpire Tim McClelland ruled it a hit-by-pitch after convening with the entire crew.
The Jays did not see it that way.
"I looked on film. No," said Buck, when asked if the pitch hit Pierzynski's foot. "I don't know if I really fault him for it. I was just surprised he got away with it. ... He's so good at selling that type of stuff. He's a [heck] of an actor, I guess."
Romero also didn't think the pitch hit Pierzynski, but quickly added that it didn't matter in the end.
"I still have a chance to get a ground ball and get a double play," Romero said. "But it didn't happen like that."
Instead, Romero lost his no-hitter.
More chances will come.
"His stuff is so good," Wells said. "Once he harnesses it, and realizes how good he really is and what he's capable of doing when he's on the mound, he can do things like this."