Sunday, January 21, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Kevin Kiermaier's glove, bullpen help Rays to series-clinching win over Blue Jays (w/video)

ST. PETERSBURG — Kevin Kier­maier made a running, tumbling catch in right-centerfield that saved at least one run, maybe two. Then he made a running, diving catch in shallow center that saved two runs, maybe three.

In between the Rays lost a one-run lead, then got it back thanks to a replay challenge.

And reliever Steve Cishek threw what he felt was strike three to Blue Jays slugger Josh Donaldson only to see it called ball three, allowed the double that wasn't, and the two fly balls that were hits until Kiermaier ran them down.

That all happened in a three-batter span during the fifth inning of what became a 2-0 Rays victory Thursday in front of 10,133 at Tropicana Field.

"I couldn't believe all that happened in just two-thirds of an inning," Cishek said. "A lot packed in there."

A sacrifice fly by Daniel Robertson in the second inning and Corey Dickerson's second home run in three games in the eighth provided all the offense.

RELATED: Bullpen shines in victory over Blue Jays.

Kiermaier's acrobatics and the work of four relievers made it stand as the Rays (63-66) earned the series win against the Jays and at the very least kept pace in the American League wild-card race, where they began the day four games back of the second and final spot.

"That's why you play both sides of the ball," said Kiermaier, who was 0-for-4 with three strikeouts, his first hitless game since returning Friday from the disabled list.

The fifth inning started with a walk and a single against Rays starter Alex Cobb. Darwin Barney forced a runner at third on his attempted sacrifice bunt.

With Cobb, who was activated Thursday from the disabled list, at 94 pitches, Rays manager Kevin Cash called for Cishek.

Former Ray Steve Pearce greeted the righty with a line drive into the gap in right-center, and Kiermaier was off and running. Cishek said he was looking to get Pearce to hit into a double play so he could return to the mound the next inning.

"All of a sudden the ball's tattooed in the gap," Cishek said. "(Kiermaier) found another gear getting to that. It's impressive."

RELATED: Staff writer Roger Mooney's takeaways from Thursday's Rays-Blue Jays game.

The Jays would have scored at least one run had Kiermaier not made the catch, and it's possible Barney could have scored from first.

Donaldson was up next. Cishek thought he had him looking at a called third strike, but home plate umpire Jim Reynolds had another idea.

Donaldson then ripped the ball down the leftfield line, scoring both runners to give the Jays a 2-1 lead. But Cash asked for a replay review, and the replay showed the ball was just foul.

"That's why this can be a game of inches, and right there we needed every centimeter, millimeter possible on Donaldson's foul ball," Kiermaier said.

Cishek walked Donaldson to load the bases. He fell behind Justin Smoak 3-and-0 before throwing him three straight fastballs, the last of which Smoak popped up to shallow center.

Kiermaier admitted he broke back on the ball, then scrambled to make up ground.

"I knew once I messed up, I had to catch it," Kiermaier said. "Thankfully I timed my leap there to make a tough catch. Those are not easy, by any means, but all that matters is it went in the glove."

Because of where the Rays are in the standings and how they scratched to score just two runs, Cishek, who was awarded the victory by the official scorer, said he felt as if he was pitching the ninth inning and not the fifth.

Cishek said he let out a sigh of relief as he walked off the mound with the lead intact, though his emotions were a bit frayed.

"It's probably the toughest two outs I've gotten out of the bullpen in a long time," he said.

     
                               
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