Rays drop opener, but 'no confidence lost'

September 14th, 2021

Playing in Toronto for the first time since they clinched a spot in the American League Wild Card Game in September 2019, the Rays knew they’d have their hands full facing the red-hot Blue Jays.

“They’re a good team that’s playing well right now,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said Monday afternoon. “We’re getting them at a time where they’re getting good pitching, and their offense -- we all see what they’re doing.”

The Rays got an unwanted up-close look at what they’re doing Monday night. The Blue Jays showed no signs of slowing up, pounding out 17 hits to back up starter Alek Manoah’s eight-inning, one-hit, 10-strikeout gem to deal Tampa Bay an 8-1 loss at Rogers Centre.

“Good old-fashioned butt-whooping, to be quite honest,” Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier said. “You just chalk it up and move on. They played great today, and we did not.”

The Rays have lost two games in a row -- Sunday on a walk-off walk in Detroit, Monday in a lopsided loss to Toronto -- as well as four of their past five games and seven of 12 this month, already more than they lost during their tremendous run in August (21-6). Meanwhile, the Blue Jays have won 15 of their past 17 games, and their scorching lineup has scored 55 runs in their past five.

With the loss, the Rays’ magic number to clinch a spot in the postseason remained at 10 and their magic number to clinch the American League East remained at 11. Toronto (81-63) chopped a game off Tampa Bay’s (89-55) advantage in the division race, but the defending AL East champs have built up enough of a cushion to still lead by eight games with 18 left to play.

It might be easy to forget, considering their AL-best record and 36-18 mark since the All-Star break, but the Rays have run into these miniature ruts before. They lost seven in a row in mid-June and dropped five straight not long after that -- and each time, they bounced back with a winning streak.

The stakes are higher in September as they close in on clinching a spot in the postseason, but the Rays believe there’s another quick turnaround coming.

“There's no confidence lost or anything like that. This happens throughout the course of a season, and I think it's just a little bit more magnified for us right now with the season coming to an end and the position we're in,” Kiermaier said. “We'll have our work cut out for us, but I have all the confidence in the world in that group in that clubhouse over there. And anytime throughout the whole season our back has been against the wall, we've always come out sooner than later and responded.”

But Tampa Bay had no answers Monday night for Manoah or Toronto’s deep lineup.

Making his third start against the Rays, Manoah didn’t allow a baserunner until Joey Wendle knocked a two-out single to left field in the fifth. Nobody else reached safely until the eighth, when Wendle was hit by a pitch. Tampa Bay scored its lone run in the ninth, when Austin Meadows homered (for his 99th RBI) off former teammate Trevor Richards.

“He’s a talented pitcher. We've faced him three times now, and he's pitched really well against us. Today might have been the best,” Cash said of Manoah. “He had a really good breaking ball, but you can tell from the side that his stuff really is lively through the zone.”

Right-hander went out-for-out with Manoah as the Rays’ opener, pitching 2 1/3 scoreless innings to begin the game. Left-hander entered with two on and one out, then stranded the bases loaded in the third, an encouraging start to his outing coming off an ugly start at Fenway Park last week.

But this one wound up going much like the last, as Yarbrough allowed seven runs while recording only seven outs. He faced 18 Toronto hitters and gave up 10 hits and a walk. He surrendered four runs on five consecutive hits in the fourth inning, with the bottom of the Jays’ lineup doing all the damage against him.

“That's a very, very solid lineup, a good lineup that is swinging the bat very, very well coming into the series, and they kind of continued that momentum that they've created getting back here at home,” Cash said.

With one out in the fifth, Toronto shortstop Bo Bichette reached down to golf a changeup from Yarbrough out to left field. Yarbrough seemed shocked by the outcome, for good reason: Bichette homered off a pitch 0.85 feet off the ground, tied for the fifth-lowest pitch turned into a homer since Statcast began tracking in 2015.

Toronto swung and missed on only two of the 77 pitches Yarbrough threw, as he struggled once again to put hitters away. That led to long at-bats, which led to a lot of men on base, which led to another frustrating night for the lefty.

“It's a kind of continuation of the last one, so not really the best outing or feeling right now,” Yarbrough said. “Extremely frustrated with some things, and it's just a matter of just having to continue to go back to the drawing board and kind of figure out what's going on … because the way things are going right now, it's not great.”