The Jays are the second best hitting team in baseball, with a collective 117 wRC+ that trails only the Dodgers’ 120 but have a middling pitching staff, with a 4.01 ERA that ranks 17th. Conversely, the Rays’ 3.38 team ERA is the fourth best in the majors, while their 104 wRC+ is fine, not great. Baseball resists making sense at all times, though, and makes much less sense in the Trop, so naturally Tampa won shootouts in the first two games of the series and the Jays were left hoping to prevail in a pitchers’ duel tonight.
It really was the excellent duel that was expected. George Springer lead the game off by reaching on a catcher’s interference, and in the second inning Alejandro Kirk stated out with a line single to centre field, but after that Drew Rasmussen sat down 12 Blue Jays batters in a row.
On the other side, Alek Manoah was just as strong. He got some help from his defence, including a nifty Vladimir Guerrero jr. unassisted double play to erase a leadoff David Peralta walk in the second. He didn’t need much, though. He scattered four hits and two walks over seven shutout innings, striking out eight, and no Ray so much as touched third base against him. Along the way he picked up his 300th career strikeout:
They let him throw 113 pitches tonight, a reflection of how big this game was, but also of their trust in the second year starter already more than 60 innings above his career high. Judging by the steady diet of 95mph fastballs he fed Ji-Man Choi in his last at bat of the night, he handled it just fine.
Jumping back a bit, the Jays had an opportunity to break the stalemate in the top of the sixth. Whit Merrifield doubled off the wall in right centre, and Jackie Bradley jr. and Vlad both walked to load the base with two out, but Kirk grounded out to short to end the inning.
In the top of the seventh, they got another chance, as Teoscare Hernandez lined a double to left field with one out, knocking Rasmussen out of the game. Kevin Cash signaled for Brooks Raley to face lefty Raimel Tapia, and John Schneider countered with Danny Jansen as a pinch hitter. Jansen worked a walk (and was pulled for Bradley Zimmer), bringing up The Tsar of St. Petersburg, FL, Whit Merrifield. That went well:
After a Bradley fly out, the Rays went to Calvin Faucher, who got Springer to pop out to end the inning.
After a 1-2-3 top of the eighth by Faucher, the Rays got themselves on the board. Tim Mayza took over form Manoah and gave up an infield single to Jose Siri. He got the next two batters to fly out and strike out, but Randy Arozarena hit a ground ball single to move Siri to second. After the Rays announced Harold Ramirez hitting for Peralta, Schneider went to Romano to attempt the four out save. It went bad last time they tried that, and it didn’t get off to a great start this time either as Ramirez chopped one sofly back over Romano’s head. Bichette was forced to barehand it and sailed his throw to first, scoring Siri and sending Arozarena to third. Romano bounced back to strike out Manny Margot and get out of the inning.
Cristofer Ogando handled the top of the ninth. He gave up a leadoff single to Matt Chapman, which was erased on a double play ball by Hernandez, and hit Bradley Zimmer, who was caught stealing second.
Romano came back out for the bottom of the ninth with a two run lead and the luxury of facing the 6-7-8 hitters. Still, it was impossible not to worry in light of his and the bullpen’s recent issues. There was no need for it, though. He struck out Mastrobuoni and Bethancourt and got a Choi fly out to lock it down.
Jays of the Day: Manoah (0.376), Merrifield (0.419)
Suckage: Bichette (-0.143),
Tomorrow will mercifully be the last game of this series. Ross Stripling (8-4, 3.21) will try to salvage a series split for the Jays. Shane McClanahan (12-6, 2.36) is expected to make his start, although he was removed early from his last appearance, on Tuesday, with a sore neck and spent time on the IL earlier this month with a shoulder impingement. I for one hope his neck feels better, on Monday.