For once, the Blue Jays got a good outing from a starter, strong outings from the bullpen, and enough offensive production all at the same time. And against a divisional rival no less.
Francisco Liriano turned in a solid, if uneven start, pitching into the 6th and allowing just one run on 4 hits, but with 4 walks against 6 strikeouts. Liriano looked great in an easy first, but struggled to find the plate in the 2nd. He walked two, with one scoring on a single where Bautista made a great throw home to almost nab Tim Backham. In fact, he was originally ruled out, but it was overturned on review. He got out of the inning with a double play to limit the damage.
Liriano continued to alternate good and bad innings, with a perfect third but allowing back-to-back singles to start the 4th. He worked out of it with a couple strikeouts and a ground out. At this point one had to wonder how much longer he'd last given his tendency to fall apart in the middle innings, but he had a very easy 5th and John Gibbons rightly sent him back out for the 6th. He walked the leadoff batter followed by Chris Couglan booting a ground ball, but Gibby smartly had Joe Biagini ready to go and went to him.
Biagini and the Jays were immediately assisted by a dumb tactical decision by the Rays, who called for Beckham to bunt. He couldn't get it down, including with two strikes, and that was an easy first out. He struck out Brad Miller and got a groundout to end the inning.
Offensively, the Jays got on the board in a fluky way in the 1st inning, after Jose Bautista walked with two out, and scored after Kendrys Morales tapped a ball to short that Beckham had to rush for the force out and threw away at just the right angle to go into no man's land and allow Bautista to score. Justin Smoak followed that up with a single to CF and for whatever reason Windmill Rivera elected to send one of the slowest runners in Morales lumbering home against one of the best outfield arms in Kevin Kiermayer and it was as close as you might expect.
The Jays got leadoff runners in each of the next two innings but failed to anything subsequently. Reclaiming the lead would have to wait until the 4th, when with one out Smoak stayed on a curveball and blooped into RF, and then Russell Martin smashed a hanging curveball into the left-centre gap for a double to plate Smoak.
They clung to the 2-1 lead through the bottom of the 6th, when Smoak came back up with Bautista on 3rd after a leadoff walk. He destroyed a fastball to straight away centre for a two run home run, to give the Jays some breathing room and a 4-1 lead.
Unique Joe came back out for the 7th and had another easy inning, marring only by hitting Steven Souza Jr causing him to leave the game (x-rays apparently negative and he's day-to-day). Generic Joe Smith pitched a scoreless 8th, working around a single and walk. Roberto Osuna pitched a perfect 9th, touching 96 MPH, to lockdown the save. Normally I'd hate defaulting to the closer with a three run lead, but given his struggles it was a perfect low pressure situation to get him back on track.
Jays of the Day: Smoak (+0.114 WPA, but that includes Morales being thrown out at home, add ~0.070 without), Biagini (+0.277), Martin (+0.177). Tip of the cap to Liriano for a good outing (+0.037), and to Gibby for managing the middle innings well.
Suckage: Coghlan (-0.106 plus the error), Windmill Rivera (-0.070 approx.)
Tomorrow, the Jays will look to win multiple games in a row for the first time and take their first series of the year in the series finale as Aaron Sanchez comes off the DL to take on Chris Archer at 1:05 EDT in what should be a compelling pitching matchup if nothing else.
Update (Minor Leaguer)
Matt Demotey has been dermoded to Buffalo, likely to create a spot for Sanchez on Sunday.