Blue Jays rally in a hurry, close in on home field
ST. PETERSBURG -- Edwin Encarnacion and Russell Martin homered while Mark Buehrle picked up win No. 15 with 6 2/3 innings as the Blue Jays inched closer to clinching home-field advantage throughout the postseason with an 8-4 victory over the Rays on Friday night at Tropicana Field.
The Blue Jays remained tied with the Royals for the best record in the American League after Kansas City came away with a 3-1 victory over Minnesota. Toronto owns the tiebreaker because of a better head-to-head record, which means its magic number to clinch the top spot is at two with two games to play.
The team that finishes in the top spot will play the winner of the AL Wild Card Game presented by Budweiser in the AL Division Series, which starts Thursday. The second-place team will play the winner of the AL West. The Blue Jays previously clinched home-field advantage for the ALDS, while the AL holds the advantage for the World Series because of its victory in the All-Star Game.
Buehrle fell just short in his quest to reach 200 innings for the 15th consecutive year, which has been done by only three Major League pitchers since 1901. His 6 2/3 innings gave him 198 on the season, but Toronto manager John Gibbons mentioned before the game that if Buehrle didn't hit 200 on Friday night, he would consider bringing the lefty back for a brief outing on Sunday.
"That's a crazy game," said Buehrle, who has a 3.82 ERA on the season. "I felt pretty good and was making some pitches, and then there are a couple bloops and then I make a mistake and he hits a home run. I wish those balls would've went to the guys -- the broken-bat base hit and the little blooper over first base. But it's baseball."
The veteran lefty appeared to be in line for a loss after he surrendered a three-run homer to Mikie Mahtook in the bottom of the fifth inning that put his team behind 4-1. That changed in the sixth, when the Blue Jays rallied for four runs, and they piled on with three more in the seventh. Martin led the way with a 3-for-5 night at the plate that included the homer, two runs scored and a pair of RBIs. Ben Revere also had a three-hit night.
"We were barreling most balls those first couple innings and had nothing to show for it," Gibbons said. "We did what we do a lot: we broke things open. That was big at that point."
Right-hander Erasmo Ramirez got the start for Tampa Bay, but he didn't factor into the decision. He allowed four runs on 10 hits and one walk while striking out three over 5 1/3 innings. The loss went to lefty Enny Romero, who relieved Ramirez in the sixth and allowed one run on one hit over two-thirds of an inning.
"It's a disappointing loss," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "We did some things that we know we shouldn't do. Mental mistakes. We just didn't get it done."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Bouncing back: The Blue Jays didn't waste any time regaining the lead in the sixth. Martin and Troy Tulowitzki started the rally with a pair of one-out singles, while Kevin Pillar followed with an RBI double. The big blow came off the bat of Ryan Goins, who hit a triple to deep right field for a pair of RBIs, and he later scored on a sacrifice fly by Revere. Just like that, Toronto was back in front by one, with three of the runs being charged to Ramirez.
"Everyone hit the ball hard early in the game, and that's just how it goes sometimes," Pillar said. "You hope they fall, and that's what this offense is capable of doing. You get a couple of runners on, hit a double and then Go-Go comes up with the big hit, gets to third base and Rev puts us on top and we added some runs later. That's what makes us so special."
Mikie magic: Something happens to Mahtook when he sees Buehrle on the mound. At least that's the way it's been for the Rays' rookie outfielder this season. Earlier in the season, he hit his first Major League home run in Toronto -- against Buehrle. Last weekend, Mahtook hit his seventh home run of the season, also against Buehrle. And Friday night, Mahtook connected for a three-run homer off Buehrle. Thus, he has eight home runs, and three have come against the Blue Jays' left-hander. More >
Maile matters: The Blue Jays appeared to be in business with runners at the corners and two out in the first. But Luke Maile saw that Encarnacion had drifted too far off the bag at first, and the Rays' catcher snapped a throw to Richie Shaffer, who slapped the tag on Encarnacion to end the threat.
The Ed-Wing: Encarnacion continued his recent power surge with a solo home run to left in the top of the seventh inning. According to Statcast™, the ball landed a projected 437 feet away and left his bat at 109 mph. Toronto's veteran slugger is now two home runs shy of reaching the 40-homer plateau for the second time in his career, and the first since 2012. Encarnacion also homered in the last three games he has appeared in, and he has eight since the start of September.
"He's not trying to hit me. He's trying to come in hard with the cutters. And he missed a little bit. Some other batters might move their leg and get out of the way, but I don't know how to do that. So it is what it is." -- Brandon Guyer on getting hit three times by Buehrle
"That's why he's one of the best in the business. He has a lot of innings under his belt. For him to go out there, probably not feeling 100 percent, but to give us everything he's got and go that deep into the game, that's why he's special, that's why he's a Hall of Famer." -- Pillar on Buehrle
Maile appeared to have extra bases in the bottom of the seventh inning, but Pillar once again did his best Superman impression. He ranged deep into the right-center-field gap and sprawled out with a headfirst dive to take the hit away. More >
UPON FURTHER REVIEW
Chris Colabello's drive off Rays reliever Andrew Bellatti in the seventh inning might have been a home run, but the Blue Jays designated hitter had to settle for a triple. The ball hit one of the rings in the catwalk at Tropicana Field, but it's only a homer when it hits one of the lower ones. When conclusive evidence during a crew chief review could not be found that that happened, the ruling was that the call on the field stands. More >
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista and Encarnacion have combined to hit 119 home runs this year, which ties the franchise record by any trio in franchise history. Jose Canseco, Shawn Green and Carlos Delgado also combined to hit 119 during the 1998 season.
Toronto is one of four teams in MLB history to have three players with at least 38 home runs in a season (Donaldson, Bautista and Encarnacion). Colorado in 1997 (Larry Walker, Andres Galarraga, Vinny Castilla), Colorado in '96 (Galarraga, Castilla and Ellis Burks) and Atlanta in 1973 (Davey Johnson, Darrell Evans and Hank Aaron) are the other three teams.
Buehrle's three HBPs of Guyer tied a Major League record. It's the first time it's occurred since Matt Carpenter of the Cardinals got hit three times on June 4, 2013, against the D-backs. The last time a batter got hit three times in a game by the same pitcher was on April 7, 2006, when Reid Johnson of the Blue Jays got hit three times by Casey Fossum of the Devil Rays.
Blue Jays: Right-hander Marco Estrada (13-8, 3.15) will take the mound when the Blue Jays continue their three-game series against the Rays on Saturday night at 6:10 p.m. ET. During his last two outings against Tampa Bay, Estrada has allowed just five hits over 16 2/3 scoreless innings. This will be his final tune-up before the ALDS.
Rays: Chris Archer (12-13, 3.26 ERA) hopes to rebound against the Blue Jays on Saturday after allowing nine earned runs to them in his last start. He is 5-3 with a 3.35 ERA in 14 career starts against the Blue Jays, and has surrendered two runs or fewer in 11 of his 14 starts.
Watch every out-of-market regular-season game live on MLB.TV.