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Marcus Stroman's career-high nine strikeouts on birthday lead Blue Jays to 5-1 win as Rays bullpen blows it

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

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A career-high nine strikeouts on his 25th birthday was enough to get Marcus Stroman the win as a big ninth inning against the Rays bullpen blew the game open for the Jays in a 5-1 victory. A pitcher's duel until the ninth, the top of the Toronto lineup was able to plate four in the final frame to win the series in Tampa Bay and return home on a good note.

The beginning of the game cruised along pretty smoothly, with both pitchers working through the first three innings in short order. This was definitely not a Red Sox-Yankees affair, as the first third of the contest took just 44 minutes to get through. It's as if the teams were trying to give fans in Toronto a little break on their Sunday afternoons between the baseball and basketball games.

Marcus Stroman had the more tense beginning to the game out of the two starters as he had to work out of runners on first and second in both the first and third innings. He buckled down and allowed the threat to get no worse in either instance though, which would pay off in the top half of the fourth as the Jays spotted him a lead. Last year's MVP in Josh Donaldson stepped up to the plate and cranked a Odorizzi heater to left-center field to make it 1-0 Blue Jays. It was the first hit the Rays hurler had allowed in the game as the righty was keeping Toronto's sluggers off-balance effectively with his fastball, splitter mix.

The more you know:

The contest kept blazing along as, aside from an Ezequiel Carrera single in the fifth, no other action occurred until the bottom of the sixth when the game was tied up by Donaldson's opposite number at the hot corner. Marcus Stroman left a slider up in the zone to Evan Longoria who crushed it to left center, not far from where Donaldson deposited his solo job. Tie ballgame, 1-1.

Entering the seventh both starters sat around 85 pitches, setting up a battle to avoid handing over the reins to their respective shaky bullpens. A fate Marcus Stroman would especially want to avoid after the last few weeks. It was Jake Odorizzi who showed the first cracks in his armor as a Bautista walk turned into a baserunner at second after a terrible pickoff move. Edwin Encarnacion wasn't able to do anything productive with the opportunity though as he flew out to right field, not deep enough to move his Dominican teammate over. Next, Troy Tulowitzki fouled off some elevated fastballs before going down flailing on a nasty splitter. The punch-out brought his hitless streak to 16 ABs, with eight of those being K's. Ouch.

In the bottom half of the frame, Stroman had a little bit of a birthday surprise as a Logan Morrison hot shot almost took the Duke grad out. Luckily, the small righty possesses the reflexes of a cat and was able to corral the ball and get the out at first. Maybe Morrison still has hard feelings about this miscommunication on Opening Day? The rest of the Rays went down in short order and it was on to the eighth with a tie ballgame in Tampa.

Erasmo Ramirez came on to face the Jays and...well...take it away Barry:

Stroman came out for the eighth on 93 pitches, looking to make quick work of the Rays to potentially have a chance at getting a decision. He did in fact make quick work of the Rays, with a three up, three down inning turning the page to the ninth.

Tampa Bay brought in LOOGY Xavier Cedeno to face Ryan Goins but instead they got pinch hitter Darwin Barney, who doubled down the left field line sparking a rally. Michael Saunders came up next with the intent of a sac bunt, but Cedeno couldn't find the strike zone with a GPS and walked the Canadian left fielder on four pitches. That spelled the end of the southpaw reliever's day as Alex Colome came in to face Josh Donaldson. Men on first and second, no outs. Colome couldn't find the strike zone either as four more straight balls loaded the bases. We could laugh about the terrible performance by the Rays bullpen but....well...Glass houses and all.

Jose Bautista stepped up looking to break the game open but struck out swinging on a hittable high fastball. Encarnacion stepped in next and hit a grounder right up the middle, which at first glance looked like an easy double play ball to end the inning. As verbal frustration flowed out of this writer's mouth the camera panned to the infield, showing a shifted defence to the pull-side that made two outs unattainable for the Rays D. The second baseman Logan Forsythe was only able to get the out at first, scoring Barney and making it 2-1 Blue Jays.

Tulowitzki was up next and crushed a fastball from Colome to a spot in left field very similar to where the previous two homers in the game had landed. 5-1 Blue Jays. Kevin Pillar followed with a single before he was thrown out on a weird pickoff run down with Carrera batting. The Jays center fielder ran into a Rays player who was standing in the baseline, but was still called out on the play. First base coach Tim Leiper and manager John Gibbons were furious with the umps as Pillar could be seen saying "what do you want me to do?". Not a bad argument really, as it did look like a play where Kevin should have been awarded second base.

The reins were handed over to Roberto Osuna in the ninth for a non-save situation. The Mexican righty surrendered a single before locking the door and securing the win for Stroman on his birthday. Overall a fun game to watch with a little bit of everything. Stro's final line was one run on three hits with nine K's and two walks over the course of eight quick innings.

The victory secured the series for the Blue Jays as they now head home to take on the Rangers in a four-game set. Tomorrow's pitching matchup from the Rogers Centre features R.A. Dickey against A.J. Griffin.

Jays of the Day are the birthday boy Marcus Stroman (+.340), along with Josh Donaldson (.175) and Darwin Barney (.173). No Suckage Jays today.

Source: FanGraphs

Enjoy the rest of your weekend and Go Raptors!