BY KEEGAN MATHESON
TORONTO — Blake Snell took the idea of quality over quantity to the next level on Friday night in Toronto, throwing five perfect innings on just 47 pitches.
That puts Snell in rare company, as he becomes just the fourth pitcher in the live-ball era (since 1920) to be pulled from a perfect game bid of at least five innings.
Snell bookended his start with five-pitch innings in the first and fifth, and never threw more than 13 pitches in a single inning. When the Blue Jays managed to make contact between Snell's six strikeouts, it wasn't very threatening, and the bullpen kept the door shut for a 7-0 win over the Blue Jays in the series opener.
"He was outstanding while he was out there," manager Kevin Cash said. "Really efficient. Generally you don't see that with any pitcher, to be that efficient, but Blake had everything going. He attacked, attacked, attacked."
Those 47 pitches were actually 12 fewer than Snell threw in his first start back from the DL, but his curveball was especially sharp. Snell forced six swinging strikes on 15 curveballs, and the Blue Jays didn't put one in play all night.
"It was more of a slurve last game, that's what I was very frustrated with," Snell said. "Today it was more 12-6, up-and-down, and I was very happy with that. I felt what sold it was the drive I had going forward off my back leg, as well as releasing the ball out front. It looked like a fastball coming out, then it disappeared."
Snell's shoulder fatigue is clearly gone, judging by the radar gun readings at Rogers Centre. His four-seam fastball averaged 96.4 mph, nearly one mph higher than his season average, and it topped out at 98 mph.
Pitching coach Kyle Snyder made the final call to end Snell's night after five innings, which had more to do with getting up and down five times than it did his pitch count.
"I'm not going to argue. Kyle wants what's best for my career, future wise and everything," Snell said. "I felt great, but I haven't gone five innings in a month. To be able to do that and be as consistent as I wanted to be with my pitches was something I was very excited about."
Former Rays catcher Luke Maile quickly broke up the perfect game with an infield single off Jake Faria in the sixth, but the Rays defense deserves a share of the credit for the shutout win.
Shortstop Willy Adames kept Snell's clean line alive in the fifth with a sharp play on the infield as he charged in on a slow ground ball that had deflected off the pitcher, then fired to first to get Kendrys Morales. Mallex Smith then ended the sixth inning with a great throw to second base to cut down Randal Grichuk, who got greedy with two outs.
The Rays have leaned on 20 rookies in 2018, the most in Major League Baseball and a franchise record. They've taken turns in the spotlight offensively, and Friday night was Michael Perez's turn.
Perez hit his first MLB home run in his 10th game in the third, a two-run shot to rightfield that stayed in the air just long enough to scrape over the wall.
"It was a big home run, because the offense certainly wasn't clicking," Cash said. "A home run, another hit, he moved a guy over with a man on second and no out. We played a really good game today."
Marco Estrada lost a curveball high to Perez on the home run ball, but Perez stayed back on the pitch long enough to let it fall into the top of the zone and turn on it. Since being acquired recently from the Diamondbacks in the Matt Andriese deal, Perez is hitting .323 over 10 games.
The Rays added some insurance in the fifth with another pair of runs, but relied more on their young speed than their bats.
Adames got things started with a long double to centerfield and eventually scored on a Smith triple. Adames ended the night 3-for-3.
Smith had some help from Blue Jays leftfielder Teoscar Hernandez, who took a poor route to the ball and let it skip to the wall, and blazed around the bases in time to beat the throw to third.
Joey Wendle did his best impression of Smith to put the Rays up 7-0 in the seventh with a two-run double. He slapped a line drive to left-center — identical to Smith's triple — that also split Hernandez and Kevin Pillar to find the wall.
After Faria pitched three innings of scoreless relief behind Snell with three strikeouts, Jaime Schultz closed things out with a clean inning of his own.