ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – No team torments the Toronto Blue Jays quite like the Tampa Bay Rays, and adding insult to injury in their final regular season meeting was getting a beatdown from their archnemesis and then watching them clinch a playoff berth.
The finale of a three-game set at Tropicana Field lacked the typical drama most of Wednesday afternoon after Ross Stripling got lit up for five runs in a six-run third that effectively decided a 7-1 Rays win. But theatre arrived in the eighth when Ryan Borucki hit Kevin Kiermaier, who triggered ill will Monday by grabbing a data card dislodged from Alejandro Kirk’s wristband during a play at the plate, prompting words to be exchanged and the dugouts to empty.
Relative calm prevailed as Rays manager Kevin Cash ranted to the umpiring crew, which then gathered by the mound after and ejected Borucki. That prompted pitching coach Pete Walker and manager Charlie Montoyo to argue, and Walker was restrained before he was ejected, too.
David Robertson closed things out in an incident-free ninth inning and the Rays poured out on the field afterwards for business-as-usual handshakes.
As usual, the Rays got the better of season series with 11 wins, and at 94-59, now have a magic number of four to clinch the American League East in back-to-back seasons. Of their 19 clashes this season, it was only the sixth time the game was decided by four runs or more, in contrast to the 10 contests settled by two or less.
The Rays winning the East is an inevitably at this point and should the Blue Jays successfully clinch a wild-card berth and then win that game to reach the division series, the Rays are likely to be waiting for them there.
There are steps to be taken for them to get there, but the math remains fairly favourable for the Blue Jays (85-67), who fell even with the New York Yankees (85-67) for the second wild card and dropped two games back of the Boston Red Sox (87-65) for the first, pending Wednesday night’s action. The Yankees were scheduled to host Texas, the Red Sox home to the Mets.
With 10 games left, beginning with a four-game set at the Minnesota Twins opening Thursday, a 6-4 run would push them to 91 wins, a total likely enough to get them into the playoffs. After the Twins, the Blue Jays have three-game series at home versus the Yankees and Baltimore Orioles, so the opportunity for 7-3 or even better is certainly there.
A big weekend versus the Twins while the Red Sox and Yankees play three in New York this weekend is a pivotal chance to gain ground before Boston closes out against Baltimore and Washington. The Yankees finish against the Rays after playing Boston and Toronto.
Nothing should be taken for granted, but the Blue Jays are set up fairly well, even after their bullpen game Wednesday went terribly awry.
Stripling, entering behind opener Julian Merryweather as the bulk pitcher, got through his first inning unscathed but didn’t survive the next, going single, double, walk, sacrifice fly, three-run homer by Austin Meadows and single before Montoyo came with the hook.
Taylor Walls added a two-run single in the frame before it was over and, with the Rays’ bullpen game going much more to plan, this was a hole the Blue Jays offence couldn’t dig out of.
Surviving as best as possible for Thursday became the priority at that point, and essential on that front was the 2.1 shutout innings delivered by Anthony Castro. That allowed the Blue Jays to both get Jordan Romano and Trevor Richards needed rest and keep Adam Cimber and Tim Mayza available for the Twins opener.
Pearson was pressed into duty after Borucki’s ejection.
Castro’s work may very well get him optioned, as Thomas Hatch, at one point a candidate to be activated from the taxi squad for Wednesday, is likely to join the bullpen Thursday.
Another reinforcement could be Santiago Espinal, whose return from a rehab assignment at triple-A Buffalo is suddenly more urgent with Breyvic Valera on the COVID-19 IL for coming into close contact with a family member.
Valera is fully vaccinated and produced a negative test, but when he’s eligible to return will be dependent on returning more negative tests and getting sign-offs from both MLB and the union. Kevin Smith was recalled from the Bisons to cover for the time being.
Cavan Biggio is a possibility to join the club next week, although the Blue Jays are hoping he can establish some rhythm at the plate before he’s returned from his rehab assignment.
Adblock test (Why?)