Romano can't hold off Rays after Blue Jays rally from 5-0 deficit

September 24th, 2023

ST. PETERSBURG -- If this was a preview of the AL Wild Card Series, it’s going to be a stressful couple of weeks.

The Blue Jays had a major win sitting right in front of them Saturday at Tropicana Field, but they were instead walked off by the Rays, 7-6. Josh Lowe was the hero, dumping a single into left field off  that sent the Rays streaming out of their dugout, mobbing him on the outfield turf. By then, the Blue Jays’ inspired comeback in the late innings felt so far away.

“The guys, they understand where we are and they never think that we’re out of a game,” manager John Schneider said. “It’s a tough task to come back against this pitching staff when you come back [down] by five, and the fact that you take the lead and you have Jordan on the mound in the ninth, you’ve got to like that outcome, except for the final result.”

The Blue Jays missed a chance to gain some valuable breathing room in the tight, complicated AL Wild Card race because both the Astros and Mariners lost on Saturday.

  • Games remaining (7): at TB (1), vs. NYY (3), vs. TB (3)
  • Standings update: Toronto (86-69) sits second in the AL Wild Card race, one game up on Houston (85-70). Seattle (84-70) is a half-game back of Houston and 1 1/2 games back of Toronto.
  • Tiebreakers: Win vs. Houston; lose vs. Seattle; lose vs. Texas

Up until Lowe’s big hit, this game featured so many encouraging signs from the Blue Jays, who erased the early five-run deficit left to them by a rare Hyun Jin Ryu stumble. Their road back started with a two-out, four-run rally in the sixth, and they eventually jumped ahead in the eighth on a bases-loaded walk, which is becoming one of their surprise trademarks in 2023. There’s a reason the Rays have frustrated the Blue Jays for so long, though, and they showed why in the bottom of the ninth.

Yandy Díaz’s leadoff double against Romano set the table for the inning, and immediately after, Schneider and the Blue Jays’ trainer visited the mound. Romano ultimately remained in, and the Rays just kept chipping away with Curtis Mead’s RBI single tying the game before Lowe walked it off.

“I thought [Romano] handled the situation well for going double, single,” Schneider said, “and he’s been in those spots before. Yandy is a really good hitter. It’s tough to sneak a ball down the first-base line there. Harold [Ramírez] is a pain in the [butt] since I’ve known him in 2018, and he’s a good hitter. It’s a good lineup and a good team, obviously. We’re a good team.”

Word of a cracked fingernail brought some initial worry, but both Schneider and Romano downplayed the impact. Romano called it a “non-issue,” adding that it did not have any impact on his control in the bottom of the ninth.

“Sometimes you go out there, you throw pitches and sometimes they find holes,” Romano said. “Today was a day where I felt like I battled hard out there, it just wasn’t good enough today.”

Romano has earned every inch of trust that Schneider and the Blue Jays have given him over the years, so when he says he’s good to go, he goes. The right-hander has racked up 36 saves with a 2.68 ERA, making him one of the game’s most effective closers, but this simply wasn’t his night.

Even amid the cracked nail and a lower back issue that Romano had battled earlier in the season, the closer insists those were not issues. Besides, nobody is waking up feeling fresh at this time of year.

“It’s into September, you know? Everyone is grinding along,” Romano said. “I’m no different than anyone else … I’ve just got to keep grinding, but I feel as good as I can be.”

If this game had happened in the middle of May, it would be so much easier to write it off as a good game between two very good teams that didn’t go Toronto’s way at the buzzer. You could even extract some positives from the Blue Jays’ late-game rally, which made it look like they’d stolen the Rays’ special powers at the time. Late September leaves little room for those thoughts, though.

The series is on the line in Sunday’s finale, but regardless of that result, these two teams are careening toward another tense, taxing date in early October.