Blue Jays put up admirable effort against Rays
Faced with early six-run deficit, Toronto makes rivals sweat until end
TORONTO -- The Blue Jays' 2013 season officially came to an end on Sunday afternoon, but not before they delivered one last scare to the Rays.
Toronto didn't want to be in the role of spoiler yet again this season, especially after entering the year with lofty expectations of the playoffs. But that's the situation the club found itself in, and it almost resulted in a costly blow to Tampa Bay.
The Blue Jays nearly rallied from a seven-run deficit before ultimately coming up just short in a 7-6 loss to the Rays in a game that had significant consequences for the American League Wild Card.
"I really enjoyed the way we finished up these last three days," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "We played some really good baseball. Even today, I didn't see that coming ... the guys hung in there, and we made a run late and had a shot. I was pretty proud of them for that.
"As tough as the year was, I got a lot of satisfaction and I found out a lot of things about some of the guys in there and had a lot of enjoyment along the way as well."
Toronto entered play on Sunday looking for one final upset over a Tampa Bay team in desperate need of a victory to improve its chances of reaching the postseason. To their credit, the Blue Jays made things extremely difficult for the Rays by taking the first two games of the series and making it close in the finale.
The rally started in the sixth inning, when veteran Mark DeRosa had a two-run double and J.P. Arencibia added a sacrifice fly during the three-run frame. Toronto then scored another run in the seventh on an RBI double by Brett Lawrie before loading the bases with one out. Rays manager Joe Maddon went to Joel Peralta out of the bullpen and the effective late-inning reliever got Adam Lind to ground into an inning-ending double play.
The rally continued in the eighth as Toronto put two runners on to chase Peralta. Rays closer Fernando Rodney entered with two outs, but he surrendered a pair of RBI singles to Jose Reyes and Anthony Gose before he could get out of the jam. He barely escaped similar troubles in the ninth to keep the Rays' season alive.
"I've never been a part of anything like that," Maddon said. "Emotions were going up and down that whole game, but it was a fun game."
The Blue Jays' early hole was dug when Todd Redmond was unable to pitch his way out of the first inning. The 28-year-old surrendered two doubles, two singles and a walk before he was pulled by Gibbons with two outs in the inning.
Toronto was already down, 3-0, at the time of the pitching change, and three more runs came around to score after right-hander Neil Wagner entered the game. Wagner eventually surrendered a two-run double to Jose Lobaton and an RBI single to Yunel Escobar.
Redmond was charged with five of those runs, but he can take solace in becoming a surprise contributor to the Blue Jays' rotation this season. He was picked up off waivers earlier in the year and was an emergency fill-in midway through the season after a series of injuries to Toronto's pitching staff.
The native of Florida responded by making 14 starts for the club and allowed three runs or fewer in all but two of those outings. Redmond has made a statement for next season, and while he may not be in the mix for a rotation spot, a case has been made to at least be used as a swingman out of the bullpen.
But in some ways, seeing a starting pitcher chased before the end of the first inning was a rather fitting way for the Blue Jays' season to end, because that area turned out to be the club's biggest weakness this year.
"I think that's the main issue we need to hit," Gibbons said of the need to upgrade his rotation. "But we're not alone -- there's only a handful of teams that are set with what they have. Everyone's looking year after year but that's the one area that really jumped out at us.
"We've also seen some good things, we liked the way [J.A.] Happ finished strong. Even Todd Redmond, the way he has been pitching, that was a tough way for him to go out because that wasn't him, he has pitched a heck of a lot better than that but that's the one area."
The Rays' victory and Texas' win later Sunday afternoon meant the two clubs have finished even for the second AL Wild Card spot, forcing a tiebreaker on Monday to see who advances to the AL Wild Card Game against Cleveland.
The Blue Jays, on the other hand, will go their separate ways for the winter.
"When we got to Spring Training, there were a lot of expectations about our ballclub and now to go home without making the playoffs, it's disappointing," Reyes said. "But the talent is still here, hopefully next year we come out of the gate quick and winning and everything will be OK. We need everybody to stay healthy the full season and go from there."