Rays 3 at Blue Jays 6
It’s a very weird time. The calendar date reads April 14th. The temperature in southern Ontario is that of June or July 14th. And the baseball game tonight had the distinct feel of October 14th. In a tensely fought contest, the Blue Jays jumped out to an early lead before taking advantage of mistakes to pull away in the middle innings to snap the Rays perfect start at 13 wins.
Jose Berrios looked as good as he has in a long while in allowing just 1 run on 4 hits over 5 innings with 6 strikeouts to earn the win. Granted, there was quite a bit of hard contact (line drive out in the 1st, sharp fly ball caught leaping by Daulton Varsho against the wall in left centre in the 3rd, and four pretty hard ground balls).
The last of those was a hard comebacker off Berrios’s knee to end the 5th, and that knocked him out of the game, likely prematurely at just 77 pitches. But while he had some luck to avoid damage from hard contact, he made some really great pitches, especially with his change-up which absolutely fell off the table a few times.
For their part, the bats did their fair share as well, starting with George Springer staking the Jays to 1-0 lead, absolutely obliterating a fastball on Drew Rasmussen’s second pitch of the game for his 53rd career leadoff home run:
They didn’t stop there, as Bo Bichette followed with the first of five hits, Varsho dumped another single with one out and Matt Chapman walked to load the bases and set up a golden opportunity to blow the game open. Alas, Brandon Belt grounded into a double play to stop that in its tracks.
But they came right back in the 2nd, as Kevin Kiermayer rolled a single up the middle with two out. Rasmussen was much more careful with Springer this time and walked him. But it didn’t help, as Bo Bichette lined a hard double the other way for his 550th career hit. Unfortunately, it only plated one as a fan grabbed it (though it was probably heading out anyway).
After Tampa got one back in the 4th, the Jays squandered a chance to get it back in the second, as Santiago Espinal walked leading off by was erased trying to nab second before Danny Jansen had a fly ball come up just short and another Kiermayer single.
But it was the 5th inning that proved decisive. Bichette lead off with another single, and Vladimir Guerrero followed with a sharp ground ball right at Wander Franco with some English that seemingly went went right threw him. It was an easy double play if he grabbed it; instead the jays had two on. Varsho then walked to load the bases, and while Rasmussen rebounded to strike out Chapman it was the end of his night.
Kevin Cash turned to Colin Poche, but was it wasn’t his night. He walked pinch hitter Alejandro Kirk and then Espinal on nine pitches to force in two runs. And then the Rays defensive struck again, as what should have been an easy GIDP ball to Franco by Jansen ended up in centre field to cash two more runs and finally break it open at 6-1.
Cash went to Yonny Chininos, who got to strikeouts to prevent further damage, and then cruised through the last three innings, but the damage was done.
That’s not to say it was easy going the rest of the way. With Berrios exiting early, John Schneider turned to Trevor Richards for the 6th. His change-up actually looked fantastic, but the Rays got two singles to threathen. Zach Pop was summoned with two out to ends things with a strikeout.
At that point, Schneider reached back into the bullpen for Yimi Garcia in the 7th, once again coming up with a reliever who took damage. With one out, Josh Lowe squared up an 0-1 pitch to dead centre, getting it literally about 12 inches above Kiermayer’s valliant effort to pull it back. Garcia then got ahead of Christian Bethancourt 0-2, but couldn’t finish him off and his 5th pitch fastball was absolutely destroyed for a second solo home run.
Fortunately, that was as close as the Rays got. Garcia got the next two, Erik Swanson didn’t have his best stuff but worked around a leadoff walk. Jordan Romero conversely did have the good stuff, slamming the door on nine pitches in the 9th.
Theoretically this was just another April win, but the atmosphere was charged given the narratives at play. There was parallels to 1984, when the juggernaut Tigers jumped out to a 9-0 start, then 19-2 and ultimately a 35-5 start, before the Jays had a torrid May to close within 4.5 games as they clashed head-to-head in June. Of course, it doesn’t have quite the same stakes given the wild cards mean the Jays can make the postseason regardless of what Tampa does, but it was still a lot of fun.
Jays of the Day: Bichette (+.192 WPA), Berrios (+.168), Varsho (+.097 and the leaping catch), Springer (+.081, giving them the lead they never coughed up).
Suckage: Belt (-.130).
Having increased the Rays season loss infinitely, the Jays will have to settle for merely trying to double it tomorrow. However, Yusei Kikuchi will look to hand the Rays their first season loss at 3:00 EDT.