TORONTO — Whit Merrifield has been a starter at every level of baseball until he was traded to Toronto. But he's learning to have an impact as a pinch-hitter at the exact right time for the Blue Jays.
Merrifield had a two-run double off the bench and was driven home by George Springer's homer as part of a four-run seventh inning to lift Toronto over the Tampa Bay Rays 7-2 on Tuesday to split a day-night doubleheader. Randy Arozarena drove in runs in the first and third innings as Tampa held on for a 4-2 win in the afternoon.
The win put the Blue Jays ahead of the Rays in the tightly contested American League wild-card race by half a game.
"It was a big moment in a big game," said Merrifield, who was sent to Toronto by the Kansas City Royals on Aug. 2 "That was really what was going through my head: big moment, big game.
"It's nice to contribute, nice to do something positive, but in that moment, I was just thinking to get something to drive and it worked out."
Springer hit only his third home run since July 26 as he continues to play with a sore elbow. He said he was pleased to contribute at a key point in the win and in the season.
"To come out with a split is big, especially against them," said Springer. "Obviously they're an extremely talented baseball team and we're trying to chase them and vice versa."
Teoscar Hernandez, Alejandro Kirk and Matt Chapman each drove in a run for Toronto (80-62) to back a gutsy performance by starting pitcher Alek Manoah. The burly ace had been scheduled to start the matinee for the Blue Jays, but was moved to the evening game thanks to a stomach bug.
Manoah pitched 6 2/3 innings, striking out five but allowing two runs on five hits and two walks. He'd been up all night vomiting and required an intravenous drip to help him hydrate before taking the mound.
"My job is not to feel good. My job is to just go out there and compete," said Manoah. "No matter what's going on, the circumstances, I've just got to go out there and give this team a chance.
"I know they knew I was going through it so I knew they'd pick me up."
Ji-Man Choi and Jonathan Aranda each had a solo home run for Tampa Bay (79-62). Starter Yonny Chirinos scattered three hits over four innings, striking out two. Garrett Cleavinger, Jalen Beeks, Colin Poche (4-2) and Kevin Herget came out of the Rays' bullpen.
Choi opened the scoring in the third, working Manoah to a full count before launching a slider to deep right field.
Kirk tied it up in the sixth when his dribbler up the first-base line gave Vladimir Guerrero Jr. ample time to score from third.
Aranda restored Tampa's lead in the seventh, sailing a change-up over the left-field wall to make it 2-1.
Interim Blue Jays manager John Schneider made a series of lineup changes in the bottom of the seventh to give Toronto its first lead of the game.
Santiago Espinal replaced Cavan Biggio to lead off the inning and drew a walk and advanced to third on two wild pitches from Poche. After Chapman struck out, Danny Jansen pitch hit for Raimel Tapia and drew a walk, bringing Merrifield — in for Jackie Bradley Jr. — to the plate.
Merrifield wired the first pitch he saw down the left-field line for a double, cashing in Espinal and Bradley Zimmer, who was running in Jansen's stead, to make it 3-2.
"Everyone stepped up and did their thing," said Schneider. "It was just really cool to see the entire (team) contribute."
Springer then came to the plate, crushing an 83.8 m.p.h. curveball from Poche to deep left field, bringing the Rogers Centre crowd of 25,103 to their feet and handing Toronto a 5-2 lead.
Hernandez tacked on a run in the eighth, doubling in Kirk, who had led off the inning with a single. Chapman's sacrifice fly brought Hernandez home for a 7-2 lead.
ON DECK — Toronto's Ross Stripling (7-4) gets the start for the fourth instalment of the five-game series against Tampa Bay. Drew Rasmussen (10-4) is scheduled for the Rays.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 13, 2022.
John Chidley-Hill, The Canadian Press
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version incorrectly had Arozarena driving in runs in the first and second innings, instead of first and third