Yandy Diaz had a three-run homer in the second inning and Tampa never looked back in an 11-0 rout of the Blue Jays. Toronto still took three of five games in their series with the visiting Rays, moving closer to a playoff berth with 18 games left in the regular season.
"I thought we played unbelievable," said starting pitcher Kevin Gausman of the series win. Gausman (12-10) allowed five runs on six hits but struck out seven and issued only one walk over seven innings Thursday.
"Besides my effort today, I thought all of our pitchers really threw the ball really great and attacked the strike zone. Unfortunately, I couldn't shut the door but I think we're playing a really good brand of baseball right now."
Thursday's loss cut the Blue Jays' lead over Tampa in the American League's wild-card race to a half game. The Seattle Mariners, who had Thursday off, hold the top wild-card berth with an identical .563 win percentage to Toronto but two games in hand.
"Honestly, we don't really talk about (the standings)," said Gausman. "It's just play good baseball, y'know?
"We feel pretty confident that if we do that and do what we can control, that we can control our own destiny."
Bo Bichette had two hits, including a double, and a stolen base for Toronto (81-63). The Blue Jays all-star shortstop is in the midst of an eight-game hit streak. He started September with a six-game hit streak as well.
Toronto welcomes the division-rival Orioles to Rogers Centre on Friday for a three-game series. Baltimore is 4 1/2 games behind Tampa Bay for the AL's third and final wild-card spot.
Blue Jays interim manager John Schneider said that the series opener against the Orioles would be "a bullpen game of some sort" with a starter to be named later. Austin Voth (5-2) was scheduled to take the mound for Baltimore.
Zach Pop, Trevor Richards, and David Phelps relieved Gausman on Thursday, with Richards getting charged for five runs and Phelps one. Schneider said that Richards and Phelps's lengthy appearances — they combined for 47 pitches — complicated his plan for Friday's game.
"We're still working through it. Today didn't really go as planned late," said Schneider. "So we're going through a couple of different options right now and we'll know tomorrow."
René Pinto had an RBI single as part of Tampa's four-run second. Isaac Paredes added a solo home run in the seventh and drove in another run during a rally in the ninth.
Pinto got Tampa Bay on the board in the second when his single scored David Peralta and advanced Paredes to third. The Blue Jays challenged the play, arguing that Paredes should have been ruled out after he lost his balance on the bag as third baseman Matt Chapman applied the tag.
After officials examined video replay they ruled that the Paredes kept his foot on the bag.
Two batters later, Diaz hit his ninth home run of the season to deep left field to score Paredes and Pinto and give the Rays a sizable 4-0 lead.
Gausman settled down after that costly inning, retiring 12 of the next 13 batters he faced, only allowing a single to Peralta in the fourth.
The Rays got to Gausman again in the seventh when Paredes led off the inning with his 19th home run of the season to make it 5-0. Tampa didn't relent in the ninth, going through its entire batting order in the inning and scoring six runs.
ROBERTO CLEMENTE DAY — Bichette was honoured in a pre-game on-field presentation as the Blue Jays' nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award. The award is given to the "best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual's contribution to his team." The Rays had an all-Latino lineup to start the game, a first in Major League Baseball history. All nine Tampa Bay players wore No. 21 in Clemente's honour.
CAPTAIN KIRK — All-star catcher Alejandro Kirk was out of the Blue Jays lineup on Thursday as he dealt with tightness in his left hip. Interim Toronto manager John Schneider said that Kirk could be available off the bench.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 15, 2022.
John Chidley-Hill, The Canadian Press