The Tampa Bay Rays got off to a good start on Friday yet couldn’t finish off the Toronto Blue Jays. The Rays squandered three leads in the 7-6 loss, leaving them with no wiggle room for mulligans in the quest for 90 wins with just two games left to play.
After a terrific month-long stretch of play, Tampa Bay has dropped four of five.
The Rays took a three-run lead in the first inning against southpaw Thomas Pannone, who previously held them to just two runs. Mallex Smith led off the game with a triple to left-centerfield, while Tommy Pham walked — extending his on-base streak to 30 games.
Joey Wendle drove in the Rays first run when he doubled down the left field line, plating Smith from third and moving Pham up 180 feet.
CJ Cron was next, sending a sacrifice fly to left and pushing the lead to 2-0. Finally, Willy Adames capped the inning with an RBI single to right-center.
Yet Toronto immediately answered against Tyler Glasnow when Teoscar Hernandez homered to right-center on the first pitch of the second inning, drawing the Blue Jays within two.
Still, the Rays stretched the lead back to three runs in the fifth inning after Smith reached on an infield hit. Even though it appeared that he was picked off first, the throw to second went off of Richard Urena’s glove which allowed Smith to scamper into third on what was scored a stolen base and an error.
Pham followed with a sac fly to right for a 4-1 advantage. However, the Blue Jays tied the game in the sixth.
Rowdy Tellez started the rally with a homer to right, then with one out Reese McGwire singled and Dwight Smith Jr. walked, chasing Glasnow. Enter Adam Kolerek.
Even though McGwire was thrown out trying to advance to third for the second out, Urena singled to left — putting two on for second baseman Jon Berti, who punched a ground ball into center field for a hit. Both Smith and Urena scored as the throw came in to second.
Tampa Bay was able to take the lead back in the bottom of the inning. Willy Adames led off with a walk, moved up to third on a one-out single to right by Austin Meadows, and came home on a safety squeeze bunt single by catcher Adam Moore off reliever Jake Petricka.
Be that as it may, the Rays scored just the one run in the frame, which allowed Toronto to take the lead back for good in the top of the seventh.
Chaz Roe started the inning by allowing a leadoff hustle double to left-center to Kevin Pillar. Yangervis Solarte grounded to third, as Roe was pulled in favor of Jose Alvarado. Tellez grounded to second but Brandon Lowe committed his first big league error, putting runners on the corners with one out. Hernandez walked to load the bases before pinch-hitter Randall Grichuk cleared the bases with a three-run triple to right.
Tampa Bay was able to get within a run on a no-doubter to center by Adam Moore, his first MLB homer in six seasons.
Smith, who was a homer* shy of the cycle, then doubled to left-center off Jose Fernandez, leading John Gibbons to call upon Ryan Tepera, the sixth pitcher of the night for Toronto. Tepera struck out Pham and Wendle and got CJ Cron to fly to right, ending the threat.
Ken Giles closed out the game with a scoreless ninth.
*Smith crushed a ball to the deepest part of the park in the sixth, just shy of the wall in center.
The New What Next
The second game of the series is on Saturday as Blake Snell (21-5, 1.90 ERA) makes his final start of 2018 opposite of fellow southpaw Ryan Borucki (4-5, 3.76 ERA).
Snell blanked Toronto across 6-2/3 innings on Sunday, allowing three hits and two walks. He struck out 11. The southpaw was outstanding once again, winning his ninth consecutive start. Snell relinquished just three singles and during his nine-start winning streak has given up only six earned runs in 46 innings. He has a sterling 1.90 ERA and a 0.96 WHIP this season.
For Snell, who became the Rays’ third starting pitcher to win the team MVP award on Friday (joining Tanyon Sturtze in 2001 and James Shields in 2011), consider this his final tuneup ahead of a potential Cy Young Award win.
Borucki was dealt a loss on Sunday even though he allowed just two runs on three hits and four walks while striking out seven over seven innings. Borucki was solid once again, limiting the opposition to two runs or fewer for his fourth straight start. Borucki was nicked for RBI doubles in the fourth and sixth innings, saddling him with the loss. He is 0-2 but with a 2.77 ERA against the Rays this season. Key Matchups: Carlos Gomez (1-2), Tommy Pham (1-4, 2 BB), Joey Wendle (1-4, 2B, RBI, 2 BB)
Rays 9/29/18 Starting Lineup
You can read about the series in our preview.