ST. PETERSBURG — Friday’s win was impressive enough, as the Rays battled back after letting two leads get away to beat the Blue Jays 10-6 in a battle of the American League’s top two wild-card teams.
But there were some added benefits.
The victory moved Tampa Bay (84-67) into the top spot alongside Toronto in the three-team wild-card field and gave it the season series, which means it now has the tiebreaker if the teams finish with the same record. Plus, the Rays reduced their magic number to clinch a playoff spot to seven.
“It’s kind of in our hands, and whatever we do with that is whatever we do with it,” said Rays reliever Pete Fairbanks, who closed out the win. “Our job is to come in and have that same drive and same competitive fire (Saturday) and to bring it. And hopefully have our number lit up in gold on the Bally Sports broadcast (signifying a win) at the end of the day.”
The win was one of the Rays’ most hard-earned, as they had to overcome letting leads of 3-0 and 6-4 get away before rallying for four runs in the eighth inning.
“An exciting game,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “We know we’re playing a very good team. No lead’s good enough with that lineup. We just kind of went back and forth. We played them I felt pretty tight up there in Toronto the last go-around. And certainly this game was fitting of two good teams really competing.”
Randy Arozarena led the way with a career-high six-RBI night, including a three-run homer in the fifth that gave him a second straight 20-homer, 20-steal season (which currently is a 20-32 season), joining BJ Upton as the only Rays in that category.
“It was definitely a big game, big game for both (teams),” Arozarena said, via team interpreter Manny Navarro. “We’re both trying to get the top spot of the wild card. They got the lead, then we got the lead. ... We were able to take the advantage there late in the game.”
But there were contributions from many. That included rookie infielder Miles Mastrobuoni, who found out a few hours before first pitch he was going to make his first start, shook off the nervousness, contributed a key hit during the eighth-inning rally and scored. And Taylor Walls, who was scratched from the lineup due to groin tightness but used as a pinch-runner and scored the go-ahead run.
“There were so many big at-bats,” Cash said. “When you go back and forth, a lot of people have got to play a big role. And it felt like they did.”
Pitching has carried the Rays for much of this season, so it was somewhat unusual to see two leads get away. The Jays scored four runs off starter Jeffrey Springs in a messy fourth and then two in the sixth off the relief tandem on Colin Poche and Jason Adam, whose streak of stranding 27 straight inherited runners ended.
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“You obviously feel for the guys when that happens,” Fairbanks said. “But to see them put together those at-bats in the eighth and really buckle down and lock it in when we needed it the most, shouts to the offense. There have been games where we’ve picked them up, and (Friday) was one where they were able to come and pick us up. I thought it was great to see.”
After being shut out twice and scoring two runs total in a three-game sweep by the Astros, the Rays — sill without Yandy Diaz — have scored 10 runs in back-to-back games and rapped 23 hits (nine for extra bases).
The winning rally started with a pinch-hit walk by Ji-Man Choi off reliever Yimi Garcia. With Walls pinch-running, Mastrobuoni — who earlier picked up his first big-league hit — singled through the second-base hole. sending Walls to third. “That was awesome,” Cash said.
A fly to shallow right by pinch-hitter David Peralta was enough to score Walls. Cash joked, “His groin looks pretty good,” then explained it was more of an issue on a swing than running. With two outs and two on, Jays shortstop Bo Bichette, a St. Petersburg Lakewood High product, made a costly error, whiffing on Harold Ramirez’s grounder, allowing Mastrobuoni to score and make it 8-6.
An infield single by Wander Franco, who earlier extended his hitting streak to 10 games, loaded the bases. Then Arozarena lashed a ball to left, making it 10-6 and pretty much over.
There was a lot to celebrate, including Mastrobuoni’s first hit (from which he got the ball), which led to the obligatory shower hijinks, where beer and other substances (condiments, baby powder, milk) are poured on the celebrant.
“It’s a great feeling,” Mastrobuoni said. “There’s nothing better than that.”
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