Rays 1 at Blue Jays 8
What would happen when unstoppable force meets unmovable object? The unstoppable force that has been the Blue Jays juggernaut for the last two weeks returned home Monday to face off the long that has so often dealt crushing blows to their fortunes. But for one night at least, Tampa was far from immovable.
Alek Manoah was electric in the early going, setting down the side in order in each of the first three innings for a perfect first turn through the order. As has been the case more often than not, he sat in the low 90s with his fastball, reasonably well commanded. The x-factor however was his slider, which was the hellacious 12-to-7 power breaking breaking ball with plunging vertical break and late sweeping horizontal finish that he’s flashed at his best.
It almost seemed like Manoah’s feel for it exceeded what he was expecting, as for the first couple batters it was finishing quite low and not being chased. He seemed to make an adjustment, perhaps to start it a little a higher to make it look like more like a strike. In any event, by the bottom half of the order it was dominant, getting Kevin Kiermaier and Francisco Mejia to swing through three of them to end the 3rd. He also mixed in one very good looking change-up, but was clearly leaning on the slider.
Meanwhile, Collin McHugh was equal to the task for the two innings with sharp breaking ball of his own, facing the minimum after erasing a Teoscar Hernández single by inducing Alejandro Kirk to hit a ball tailor made for two. The third inning was rougher, with Lourdes Gurriel drilling a single leading off and Breyvic Valera doing the same with one out to end his night.
Ryan Yarbrough came in for the second time through, immediately walking George Springer to load the bases but wriggling out by retiring Marcus Semien and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. He was not so fortunate in the 4th, giving up three straight singles to the Teoscar-Kirk-Gurriel wrecking crew to plate the first run, before Randal Grichuk got in on the action with a two run double and Valera added another hit for good measure. Once again, the top of the order stranded a few runners (a good night for them to pick to do so).
In the end, that would be all the Jays would need as Manoah continued to buzzsaw through the Rays, again setting them down in order in an easy 4th. He had to deal with a 30 minute layoff as the Jays put up the four spot, and was not quite as sharp in the 5th. Nonetheless, he got the first two batters on weak contact to push it to 14 up and down.
The perfect game would end however just over the halfway mark. Joey Wendle laid off a high fastball after falling behind on two sliders, then squared up a fastball that started over the inside corner but cut back right over the middle and fought it off into left field for a clean single. Really, the only good contact off Manoah all night.
From there, the beat went on offensively. With one out, Bo Bichette golfed a two strike change-up that was at least as close to the ground as the bottom of the zone just over the fence in left field for a home run. Yarbrough was left with an incredulous “are you kidding me?” look for which I cannot blame him in the least given that (a) Bichette swung and (b) made contact and (c) made good contact and (d) the ball carried over the fence.
Aurora BOrelis?— Toronto Blue Jays (@BlueJays) September 14, 2021
At this time of day? At this time of year? Localized entirely within the Rogers Centre? pic.twitter.com/MoEqY5TCNt
Teoscar followed by lining a hard double into the corner for this third hit. Kirk smashed a short line drive up the middle, but that was picked on the short hop and converted to an out. Gurriel smashed a hard ground ball through the left side for his third hit to make it 6-0, and after Grichuk made up for Kirk’s hard out by beating out a bouncer, Valera hit almost a mirror image of Gurriel’s for this third hit and a 7-0 lead.
Manoah kept dominating in very efficient manner, with another couple perfect innings in the 6th and 7th, two strikeouts and weak contact. In the process, he reached 100 career strikeouts, becoming the youngest and quickest in team history to the mark.
The top three in the lineup were still hitless going to the 6th, but that was about to change. Vlad took a huge swing at the first pitch from Adam Conley, and just missed it with a sharp foul. He did not miss a few pitches later, destroying (one might say OBLITERATED) a missile down the left field line for his 45th home run:
Very few home runs are true line drives; they almost always have some elevation and are some degree of fliner. But this was one of them. In fact, it was such a laser that the only thing that surprised me was that the launch angle was as high as 15 degrees. That not only moved him into sole possession of the major league HR lead, but also broke the single season MLB record for most home runs by a Vladimir Guerrero (only 381 to go for the career mark). Senior might have the plaque in Cooperstown, but Junior’s the home run king.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Rays-Jays game if there wasn’t some sort of larceny. Gurriel was making a bid for a fourth hit leading off the 7th, and clubbed a sharp fly ball to dead centre. I don’t think it would have gone out, though should have been for extra bases, but Kevin Kiermaier had different ideas:
Manoah once again came out and dominated in the 8th, overmatching with his slider for a pair of strikeouts. He sandwiched that around hitting Wendle (the only Ray to reach off him). and then narrowly missed erasing him on a double play with the next pitch. Nearing 100 pitches, that was the end of his night. Pulling him was 100% the right move in the bigger picture of a playoff race and keeping him fresh, but I really would have loved to see him finish it off.
Instead, after Teoscar placed a solid ground ball up the middle for his fifth hit in the bottom of the inning, Trevor Richards came out to work the 9th. I’m not sure why in a 8-0 game he’s being used, and with two out he served up a meatball to Austin Meadows that was clubbed into the second level to spoil the shutout. Whatever.
Man alive, is this team ever fun to watch right now.
Jays of the Day: Manoah (+0.275 WPA), Gurriel (+0.134), Valera (+0.118). Grichuk (+0.088) is slightly shy strictly by the numbers, but gets one for three hits. Teoscar hilariously ends up at just 0.063, but certainly gets one for a five hit night.
Suckage: Semien (-0.105) picked an excellent night for the 0-for-5 off-night. Springer also posted an 0-fer, but a timely walk actually left him on the positive side of the WPA ledger.
Tomorrow, the Jays will look to guarantee themselves a series win, with Jose Berrios scheduled to face off against RHP Drew Rasmussen at 7:05 EDT. And maybe, just maybe, give themselves an outside puncher’s shot at making a race of the division.