ST. PETERSBURG — Call it another wild night in the American League wild-card race. The recently offensively challenged Rays, entering Thursday’s game with just two runs over their previous three games, erupted for a 10-5 victory against the Blue Jays before 8,799 at Tropicana Field.
The Rays (83-67) pulled within a game of the Blue Jays (84-66) for the AL’s top wild-card spot, which carries the right to host a best-of-three postseason series. Meanwhile, the Mariners (82-67) are hovering a half-game behind the Rays.
After looking hopeless at times while getting swept by the Astros, hope returned to the Trop.
“Baseball is weird,” manager Kevin Cash said. “We had a lot of good at-bats. In our locker room, it seems like the majority of our guys are really good at closing the door on a loss and moving forward. They do a good job of flushing it and getting to the next day, ready to work.”
Each of the Rays’ first five batters had multiple hits and at least one RBI.
“That’s what we’re supposed to do,” leftfielder David Peralta said. “We didn’t do our job very well (in the previous three games against the Astros, all defeats). “But (Thursday) was a new day. We did our job, and that’s what we’re going to do (Friday).”
The Rays had to improvise with their mound plans when bulk-innings specialist Ryan Yarbrough departed just two pitches into the third inning with an injury. Yarbrough, who was touched for a pair of solo home runs in the second, suffered a right oblique strain and likely is headed to the injured list, Cash said.
Yarbrough (3-8) ended up picking up the victory because he was the pitcher of record when the Rays took the lead.
“These are the kind of games you look forward to so you can eat innings and give those (bullpen) guys a blow,” Yarbrough said. “It’s extremely frustrating (to get injured).”
Still, the Rays’ bullpen again was effective. In all, the Rays used seven pitchers, a parade of six after opener JT Chargois worked the first inning. The Blue Jays, who arrived in the Tampa Bay area at 4:30 a.m. Thursday after Wednesday night’s game in Philadelphia, looked weary. They had just three baserunners after Yarbrough’s injury until the ninth inning, when Whit Merrifield delivered a two-run shot off Dusten Knight, his second home run of the game.
Left-hander Garrett Cleavinger followed Yarbrough, using an extended warmup period after being called to action. He set the tone with two shutout innings (including four strikeouts).
“It’s not a very comfortable situation,” Cash said. “It just alters your routine. But (Cleavinger) has been outstanding for us, and everybody kind of followed suit. It was all hands on deck, and we pieced it together.”
The Rays broke the game open with a three-run second inning, doing all the scoring with two outs.
Manuel Margot’s RBI single off the glove of Blue Jays pitcher Jose Berrios, who threw 74 pitches in two innings, snapped a 3-3 tie. Wander Franco and Randy Arozarena followed with RBI singles, and it was 6-3.
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The Rays made it 9-3 in the fourth. After Taylor Walls and Jonathan Aranda drew walks, Franco slammed a one-out, two-run double just beyond the outstretched glove of diving centerfielder George Springer. One out later, Peralta’s single knocked in Franco.
Peralta got another RBI in the sixth when his run-scoring double to the rightfield corner brought in Arozarena, who had walked.
The game did not begin well for Chargois. He surrendered a leadoff triple to Springer before Bo Bichette, who went in with a .424 batting average and a 1.267 OPS in September, drilled a one-out RBI double down the third-base line. But Chargois allowed no more.
The Rays struck back in the bottom of the first. Aranda led off with his second homer of the year. Margot singled and scored on a double by Arozarena, who scored the Rays’ third run on a Berrios wild pitch.
The Blue Jays equalized when Teoscar Hernandez and Merrifield each hit second-inning solo homers off Yarbrough, and it looked like a really wild night was ahead.
It was plenty wild for the suddenly relentless Rays. For the Blue Jays, it was more on the mild side.
Three more Rays-Blue Jays games to go in the regular season. In an unpredictable AL wild-card race, what will Friday bring?
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