TORONTO -- One of John Gibbons' favorite expressions is, "There's no quit in this team." He was proven right on Thursday night when the Blue Jays pulled off one of the most improbable victories in franchise history.
Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Justin Smoak hit back-to-back homers in the bottom of the ninth as the Blue Jays rallied from six runs down to pull off a stunning 9-8 victory over the Rays at the Rogers Centre. The six-run turnaround is tied for the largest ninth-inning comeback win in Toronto's 42 years as an MLB franchise.
Gurriel tied the game with a two-run homer off Rays reliever Sergio Romo and Smoak added the finishing touch with a solo shot over the wall in right field. That secured Toronto's 40th comeback win of the season, and it also dealt a devastating blow to Tampa Bay's chances at the second American League Wild Card spot.
"I don't even know," Gibbons said, when half-jokingly asked what had just happened after the game. "Baseball is a crazy game. The odds of that happening [are low]. But sometimes things start snowballing and it's tough to stop. I'm proud of the guys. We put all of the youngsters in there and they made something happen. Some great at-bats in that last inning and then Smoaky, one of the old vets, because we didn't want to play extra innings."
The Blue Jays sent nine batters to the plate in the final frame and the most exciting part for the organization is that six of those players spent most of the season at Triple-A Buffalo. Toronto began its youth movement at the Major League level earlier this month, and while it has added to the excitement at the ballpark, it also has resulted in some improved results on the field for a team that has now won five of its past six games.
The rookie duo of Rowdy Tellez and Danny Jansen once again took center stage in the ninth. Tellez drove in the first run of the inning with an RBI double, which was part of a 2-for-4 night at the plate that also included a two-run homer. Jansen chipped in with a three-run home run in the ninth that chased reliever Jaime Schultz and provided Toronto with a glimmer of hope.
Rookie outfielder John Smith started the rally with a leadoff double. Fellow rookie outfielder Jonathan Davis also reached base on a hit by pitch and then Gurriel turned the game on a dime with the game-tying two-run homer to left. According to Statcast™, Gurriel's ninth of the season was projected to travel 345 feet and left his bat at 101 mph. One pitch later, the game was over when Smoak followed with a solo home run to give Toronto its ninth walk-off win of the year.
"You're sitting there watching it unfold on the bench and you have to give it to some of these young guys -- they're having really good at-bats," Smoak said. "Davis had that long at-bat, another couple of big hits from Rowdy. I felt like it happened so fast, the next thing I knew I was up there. It was a good way to win."
The Blue Jays entered the ninth inning trailing 8-2. The six-run comeback is Toronto's largest in the ninth inning since rallying from a score of 10-4 to defeat the Angels on July 30, 2017. Toronto picked up three home runs in one inning for the second time this season and improved to 22-16 in one-run games. Not too many of them were quite as dramatic as this one.
"I think the future is bright for us," Gurriel said through an interpreter after the game. "It's always nice to have those guys that I played with last year and this year. I'm happy and feel fortunate to play with those guys, knowing that some of them, probably all of them, will be my teammates next year. On top of that, we got the win. It's an amazing night and I'm really happy for them, too."
A minute or two before Gurriel stepped to the plate in the ninth, the ballgame looked over. With two outs, Kendrys Morales lifted a shallow pop-up to right-center field. The ball was high enough that on first glance, most people assumed it would turn into the final out. But instead, four Rays players converged and nobody could come up with the play. Morales stayed at first base and was lifted for a pinch-runner before Gurriel unloaded on Romo with the two-run shot to left that tied the game.
"It was such a big lead," Gibbons said. "When things start rolling, you never know, but yeah sometimes you go, 'OK' [after a play like that]. Gurriel is a pretty good hitter. At least you expect him to get on base and then of course he hits the homer."
Tellez has 10 extra-base hits since joining the Blue Jays at the start of the month. That moved him past Adam Lind for the most extra-base hits by a Blue Jay in their first 14 MLB games. Tellez's hits have come across 40 plate appearances, which ties Taylor Teagarden for the most all-time since tracking began in 1913.
Right-hander Sean Reid-Foley (2-3, 5.54 ERA) will take the mound when the Blue Jays continue their four-game series against the Rays on Friday night at Rogers Centre, with first pitch scheduled for 7:07 p.m. ET. This is expected to be Reid-Foley's final start of the season as he approaches an innings limit. The rookie right-hander has tossed 155 2/3 combined innings between the Minors and Majors this season.