ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Kevin Kiermaier's first hit of the season, a two-run triple into the right field corner in the 10th inning, gave the Tampa Bay Rays a 6-5 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays on Sunday.
Tampa Bay's defensive whiz delivered the second walkoff hit of his career after the Rays scored twice in the ninth to force extra innings, then fell behind again 5-4 when Blue Jays pinch-runner Santiago Espinal stole third base and scored on Lourdes Gurriel Jr.'s sacrifice fly off Chaz Roe (1-0).
“It was a frustrating series for me personally ... but I had a feeling something good was going to happen,” Kiermaier said. “It was good to see one fall, finally.”
The Rays began the bottom of the 10th with Kevan Smith on second base. Jose Martinez drew a walk from rookie Shun Yamaguchi (0-1) before Kiermaier — a three-time Gold Glove center fielder — ended an 0-for-11 skid to begin the pandemic-delayed season.
“Full team effort. ... It says a lot about the resolve” of the Rays, manager Kevin Cash said.
The loss concluded an unsettling week for the displaced Blue Jays, who will not play any home games in Toronto this season after being denied permission by the Canadian government to play at Rogers Centre during the pandemic.
Instead, the team will play a majority of its home dates in Buffalo, New York, in a minor league stadium undergoing improvements.
Despite losing two of three to the Rays, the Blue Jays left Tropicana Field encouraged.
“When you lose games like that, it’s tough. But I was right there on the top of the stairs making sure they knew we played three good games. Keep your head up," Toronto manager Charlie Montoyo said. "We competed with one of the best teams in baseball. That was my message.”
Bo Bichette's two-run single was the biggest blow in Toronto's four-run sixth inning against Trevor Richards.
Anthony Kay pitched 2 2/3 innings in relief of rookie starter Thomas Hatch, who made his major league debut for the Blue Jays. He was in a position to get the win until closer Ken Giles faltered after getting two outs in the ninth.
The reliever yielded a two-out double to pinch hitter Joey Wendle before walking Willy Adames and Yoshi Tsutsugo to load the bases. Ji-Man Choi worked him to a 3-1 count before Giles left the game because of elbow soreness.
“He got the first two outs like he always does and then Wendle has a great at-bat with the double," Montoyo said. "Then his command wasn’t there, but he looked fine, he never complained or anything. That’s why I thought he was fine the whole time.”
Hatch walked two but didn’t allow a hit while striking out three in 2 1/3 innings.
Kay worked into the sixth inning, when Choi hit the first right-handed home run of his career and Brandon Lowe followed with a double to end the Toronto reliever’s day.
The lefty-swinging Choi, who experimented with batting right-handed during workouts in spring training and summer camp, switched over to the right side for two at-bats against Kay. After striking out in the third, he drove the left-hander’s first pitch of the sixth over the wall in left center field.
“The first at-bat we were playing defense for a while, so I wasn't really warmed up as a righty,” Choi said through an interpreter. “The second one, I swung and the ball just traveled.”
Blake Snell, the 2018 AL Cy Young award winner, started for the Rays. The lefty, looking to rebound from going 6-8 with a 4.29 ERA last season, pitched two scoreless innings but had to work out of jams in each of them.
Toronto left the bases loaded in the first, then stranded two more runners in the second. The Blue Jays finally broke through against Trevor Richards in the sixth, beginning the inning with six consecutive hits.
Manuel Margot’s fielding error allowed the first Blue Jays run to score. Danny Jansen followed with a RBI single, and Bichette extended the lead to 4-0 with his two-run single.
ON BASE ... AGAIN
Toronto’s Cavan Biggio singled in the eighth, extending his on-base streak to 32 games, the longest active stretch in the majors.
Blue Jays: CF Randal Grichuk left the game while Toronto was on defense in the sixth inning. Montoyo said his back tightened up, adding both Grichuk and Giles are day to day.
Rays: OF Austin Meadows, placed on the injured list after missing most of summer camp due to testing positive for the coronavirus, took part in a simulated game in Port Charlotte, Florida. Manager Kevin Cash said there’s no definitive timetable on his return. Meanwhile, RH Diego Castillo remains on paternity leave, though he possibly could return as early as Monday.
Blue Jays: RH Trent Thornton (6-9, 4.84 ERA in 2019) takes the ball for the first of four consecutive games against defending World Series champion Washington, the last two of which will be “home’’ games. The Blue Jays announced last week that they will play a majority of their home games at Sahlen Field in Buffalo. The Triple-A ballpark is being upgraded and not yet ready for major league games.
Rays: Four straight games vs. Atlanta, the first two at Tropicana Field. RH Tyler Glasnow (6-1, 1.78 ERA in 2019) starts Monday, with RH Mike Foltynewicz (8-6, 4.54) going for the Braves.
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