TORONTO — It all started with a miss.
Kevin Kiermaier made a long run for a fly ball to deep left-centerfield, as he has many times before. He went with his instincts to drop his hands and try to make a basket catch. He felt the ball hit his glove and thought he had what would have been the second out of the third inning.
But as the ball hit by Cavan Biggio glanced off his glove and hit the ground, Kiermaier quickly, and then repeatedly, realized the magnitude of his mistake. The Blue Jays went on to score five runs off Corey Kluber in the inning and rolled to a 9-2 win over the Rays on Friday.
“That was a game-changing play,” Kiermaier said. “You win as a team; you lose as a team. But this one, my play out there, changed the momentum of that game. Baseball works in mysterious ways. Anytime you give the opposition extra chances, you usually pay for it. And that’s on me.”
By the end of what was a festive Canada Day matinee for the sellout crowd of 44,445 at Rogers Centre, the Rays had lost a season-high-matching fourth straight game and 11th in their last 16 games. That dropped them to 40-36 and kept them in fourth place in the American League East and out of the six-team playoff field.
There was more to it than Kiermaier’s misplay, of course.
Kluber had a rough inning, momentum swing or not, facing 11 batters (the most he has faced in an inning of the 1,498⅔ he has thrown in the majors) and throwing 35 pitches.
The Kiermaier play left runners on second and third with one out. Kluber walked George Springer to load the bases, then allowed consecutive doubles to Bo Bichette, Vladimir Guererro Jr. and Alejandro Kirk that scored the five runs.
“I think tip your hat to their hitters,” Kluber said “They hit some pretty decent pitches. They laid off some pitches just out of the zone and took advantage when I did make mistakes.”
And he said Kiermaier was not to blame.
“That’s one hitter in the inning,” Kluber said. “That’s not going to lead to five runs.”
The Rays’ offense, in what has now been a weeks-long issue, failed yet again.
They had eight hits and two walks total in five innings against Jays starter Jose Berrios but only the two runs to show for it. For the day, they left 11 on and were 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position.
“We know that’s not going to get it done,” manager Kevin Cash said “We’ve got to find ways to capitalize when guys get on base.
“It’s encouraging that we are on base and we are getting the hits. We’re just not getting the big hits and (getting) some of those innings where you’re able to put some crooked numbers up.”
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Kiermaier, who has one Platinum and three Gold Gloves, was most frustrated that he got his glove on the ball and, because he tried to make the harder basket catch, didn’t hang on.
“I sit here and harp to the younger guys about the little things, especially in times of struggle,” he said. “In looking back on that play, I wish I would have just went up (with my glove up). I don’t know. I always tell people I listen to my instincts when I’m out there in the outfield, and that’s what I chose to do. I make that play all the time. I didn’t right there. Very disappointed in myself that I allowed (the Blue Jays) momentum.
“If I catch that ball, it’s runner on second (and) two outs. Completely changes everything instead of second and third with one out, top of their order going up and Corey has to pitch different from that point on. And we saw what happened after.”
Cash acknowledged the momentum shift but pointed out that not many centerfielders get to that ball and said he would never question Kiermaier’s methods.
“I’m going to trust whatever KK chooses to do out there,” Cash said. “He knows better than maybe anybody in baseball how to go after fly balls. … He didn’t catch it. It’s a ball that we’ve grown so accustomed to seeing him catch.”
Contact Marc Topkin at email@example.com. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.
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