TORONTO -- Lights-out pitching from a bullpen day coupled with heads-up baserunning lifted the Rays to a 3-1 victory over the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre on Saturday afternoon.
Since the All-Star break, Tampa Bay has been running wild, leading the Major Leagues with 19 stolen bases, but it's not just stealing bases that has troubled opposing teams. The Rays are also second in the American League over the last 30 days in Base Running (BsR), an all-encompassing baserunning statistic from Fangraphs that turns stolen bases, caught-stealing and other baserunning plays into a metric.
"We're not a very high scoring offense, so we have to take advantage of any little mistake, bobble, whatever you want to call it, to get that extra 90 feet," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "We preach to be aggressive and smart on the bases."
Mallex Smith showed off his blazing speed in the first inning when he turned a lazy ground ball with a 14 percent hit probability, according to Statcast™, into a leadoff double.
"Initially I thought I would beat out the ball and just get the single," Smith said. "But then I heard the crowd go, 'Ohhh.' So I thought they bobbled it. But then I saw it just helplessly rolling out to center field and I was like, 'Kevin isn't going to get to that ball before I get to second, so I'm going to take two.'"
Indecision from the Blue Jays' middle infielders allowed Smith to reach second standing up.
"Speed is very important, that's probably my carrying tool," Smith said. "Everything that I can do better makes the speed just that much more valuable."
He reached a top speed of 30.5 feet per second on the play, the average speed of Byron Buxton, the fastest player in the Majors according to Statcast™.
Matt Duffy followed with a ground ball to shortstop that likely would have been a double play had Smith stayed at first, but instead he advanced to third on the play. A batter later, Joey Wendle cashed him in with a ground-rule double to give the Rays an early 1-0 lead.
An inning later, Kevin Kiermaier used his wheels to take second when Kevin Pillar bobbled the ball in center field just long enough to allow Kiermaier to slide safely into second.
"You just think it's a single, then you see him bobble it and it gets passed him, and whenever I see his numbers and turning around to go get the ball, I'm going to go," Kiermaier said.
He took third base during the next at-bat, and was cashed in by Willy Adames on a groundout to shortstop.
"With our lineup and the guys we have, we have to execute the small things a lot more than other teams," Kiermaier said. "We don't have the big home run hitters and all that, we just try to move base to base anytime we can."
The "opener" strategy has worked for the Rays since adopting it on May 19 against the Los Angeles Angels. The Rays' bullpen has posted a 3.89 ERA in games started by openers and openers have a 2.65 ERA over their last 24 starts.
"I think it's been successful," Cash said. "It allows some of these young pitchers that were starters in Triple-A and are coming up through the system, to get a little deeper in the ballgame, and we can make a decision on that third time through the lineup, especially the top of the lineup for whatever opposing team we're facing."
Ryne Stanek made his 19th start of the season for the Rays. He pitched 1 1/3 innings before giving way to the revolving door of bullpen arms. Diego Castillo went 2 2/3 innings and recorded the win. He was followed by Jaime Schultz, who went two innings, allowing the Blue Jays' lone run on a solo homer from Aledmys Diaz. Hunter Wood, Jose Alvarado and Sergio Romo closed out the game. Romo shut the door for his 99th career save and 15th of the year.
After a rocky first two innings for Blue Jays starter Sam Gaviglio, the 28-year-old settled down to finish the afternoon with seven strikeouts and one earned run over 5 1/3 innings. Tampa Bay couldn't get to Toronto's bullpen until the ninth, when Adames scored from second on a single from Jesus Sucre.
MOMENT THAT MATTERED
Castillo escapes jam: Stanek left the game in the second inning with one out, after giving up a leadoff double to Teoscar Hernandez and walking Kendrys Morales. Castillo came in and plunked Russell Martin, before falling behind 3-1 to Diaz, but Castillo got Diaz swinging on a low cutter then forced a popout to the catcher for the second out. He wrapped up the inning by getting Pillar to ground out to second to keep the Blue Jays off the board.
Smith has hit .389 with a 1.093 OPS over 31 games since the start of July.
Tyler Glasnow (1-2, 4.14 ERA) will make his third start for the Rays in the series finale against the Blue Jays on Sunday at 1:07 p.m. ET. Glasnow has combined to pitch just seven innings and 109 pitches in his first two starts, but he's posted 14 strikeouts and allowed just a pair of runs. Marcus Stroman (4-8, 5.20) takes the mound for Toronto.