TORONTO — There were four homers hit to various degrees of drama in Monday's 3-2 loss to the Blue Jays, but it was the ball blasted on the final pitch by Steven Souza Jr. that led to the most interesting moment of the Rays' night.
Saddled with their 83rd loss, formally eliminated from an American League East race they had fully expected to be in and at the brink of elimination from all playoff possibilities before mid September, there the Rays were, racing out of the dugout and the bullpen to come to Souza's defense in what had the makings of a brawl.
Tempers and testosterone levels were elevated, but no punches were thrown, as the principals — Souza and Jays catcher Russell Martin — agreed the genesis of the moment was a simple misunderstanding on something Martin said. Toronto shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, though, seemed determined to inflame the situation with some comments Souza described as "below the belt" but detailed no further.
"Obviously I don't want to start anything like that that's unnecessary," Souza said. "But to see my team get behind me like that, it was cool to rally together."
The easy thing to say is that the Rays showed, despite the standings, that they still had some fight in them.
But what they should be praised for was the intensity they showed, matching by any and every measure the Jays, who have so much more to play for.
"We played 'em tough," Rays starter Jake Odorizzi said. "I think we always play these guys tough. … If they had a choice of anybody, they probably don't want to play us in September."
The ending, though, is what is being replayed and rehashed, even though the conflict started seemingly innocently enough.
With a man on and two outs and having survived a potential third strike, Souza barreled up and crushed a Roberto Osuna pitch that looked from all angles to be a two-run homer, only to be caught on the warning track.
"I raised my hands — I thought it was a homer," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "If the camera caught me, I probably looked like a moron. But that's okay, I'm good at doing that."
Souza watched it admittedly too long, and when he heard Martin say something to him as he headed to first, he thought it was some deserved criticism and was trying, unnecessarily it turns out, to make amends. At least until Tulowitzki escalated the situation, which is what led to the benches emptying.
"I thought Russ was saying something about it, which would have been on me, totally," Souza explained. "And I was saying, 'Dude, I'm sorry, I thought I got it.' There was miscommunication in that he actually said, 'I thought you got it.' And so I said, 'Oh, my bad,' and walked away. But then Troy decided to jump in and say some things that weren't really necessary."
Martin told much the same story in the Jays clubhouse.
"It was just a misunderstanding," he said. "I just told him he crushed that ball, I thought he got it (for a homer). And before I could really get my message across, Tulo jumped in and was like a ball of fire."
Tulowitzki declined to talk with Toronto media, so we might never know what led him to intervene, or what he actually said that was so low.
Souza was forgiving nonetheless. "They're trying to win a pennant, I'm not going to hold it against him," he said. "Competition's flaring, close game. Stuff like that is going to happen. He's just trying to protect his teammates."
How things got to that point was interesting enough.
With the game scoreless through 5½ innings, the Jays struck first as Devon Travis pulled a "Kiermaier" in hustling his way to a double. Then Odorizzi made his only mistake of the night, a slider to Jose Bautista that didn't slide enough and was turned around for a two-run homer.
The Rays answered right back, Evan Longoria rapping his 32nd homer, one off his career high set back in 2009, and Brad Miller following with the 28th of his stunning season off Francisco Liriano.
"That showed a lot about us," Miller said. "Regardless of our spot in the standings, we're all fighting for something."
But the tie didn't last long as Brad Boxberger took over in the eighth and — much to his own amazement — gave up "a lazy fly ball" to pinch-hitter Ezequiel Carrera that somehow carried over the leftfield fence. "I think everyone is surprised it went out," Boxberger said.
That wasn't the only surprise of the night.
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.