Rays' 9-run 1st sends Blue Jays to 2nd seed in AL
ST. PETERSBURG -- Joey Butler hit two home runs, including a grand slam in a nine-run Rays first inning, as the Blue Jays couldn't keep their hopes for home-field advantage throughout the postseason alive, falling 12-3, on Sunday afternoon at Tropicana Field.
The Royals controlled their own destiny anyway, and they won, 6-1, over the Twins to secure home-field advantage. Toronto finishes its regular season with a 93-69 record, which is the second best in the American League. The only way the Blue Jays could have finished with the top spot was with a victory over the Rays combined with a Royals loss to the Twins.
The Blue Jays will now host the Rangers -- who won Sunday to clinch the AL West title -- in Game 1 of the AL Division Series, which starts Thursday at Rogers Centre. Game 2 also will be in Toronto, while Games 3 and 4 (if necessary) are set for Texas. If required, the fifth and final game against the Rangers would also take place north of the border. The Blue Jays have home-field advantage throughout the postseason with the exception of a potential matchup against Kansas City in the AL Championship Series.
"We have it in the first round; if we're fortunate enough to get to the World Series, we got it," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said of home-field advantage. "So that's never bad. That's two out of three, and two out of three ain't bad. I'm glad this is over with, regardless of who's got home field. That's behind us. We can beat a dead horse. I think we're all excited that we're moving on to the postseason for the first time in 20-plus years. That's what we've got to be excited about."
Left-hander Mark Buehrle got the start for Toronto on one day of rest, as he attempted to reach 200 innings for the 15th consecutive year. That had been done by only four pitchers in Major League history: Gaylord Perry, Don Sutton, Warren Spahn and Cy Young. Buehrle needed two innings to get there, but he wasn't able to get out of the first, and while the veteran lefty gave up a lot of hard contact, he also was hurt by a pair of errors by Ryan Goins and Edwin Encarnacion.
Buehrle faced 10 batters in the inning and allowed five hits and walked one. The biggest blow came on a 3-2 pitch that Butler hit over the wall in left for a grand slam. Luke Maile added a double, while Evan Longoria, Asdrubal Cabrera and Brandon Guyer added RBI singles. Buehrle tossed 45 pitches and was eventually replaced with two outs by right-hander Ryan Tepera, who surrendered a two-run homer to Mikie Mahtook.
"It's unfortunate he didn't get it done, but he deserved a shot," Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista said. "I really don't want to get on social media or start reading articles about how that wasn't the right move. I don't even want to hear it. I'm going to be the one to step ahead of all of that and say that man deserved that shot he got today to get to 200 innings.
"It's just unfortunate he didn't get it done. Unfortunately we didn't get the win and we didn't get home-field advantage, but it is what it is. We're still a great team, division winners and we're just going to do what we need to do now to get going for the playoffs. It's an outstanding season by every single person in here."
Left-hander Matt Moore earned the victory for Tampa Bay after he tossed six quality innings. He allowed four hits and walked four while striking out four. His lone blemish came in the top of the fourth inning when Chris Colabello hit a solo homer to left field for his 15th dinger of the year. Moore finished his first year off Tommy John surgery with a 5.43 ERA in 12 starts.
"Good win," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "Eighty [wins] sounds a lot better than 79."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Grand slam drought ends: Butler's grand slam in the first inning was the first hit by a Rays player this season. Kevin Kiermaier hit the last grand slam by a Rays player on July 9, 2014, at Tropicana Field against the Royals. Thus, Butler's slam snapped a 229-game drought. More >
Buehrle's uncertain future: Buehrle has yet to officially announce his plans for next year, but there has been speculation all season that he will decide to retire. The 36-year-old Buehrle was informed this week that he didn't make the postseason roster, so when he was removed in the first inning, the veteran lefty walked off the field for perhaps the final time in his career. It didn't end the way he would have liked, but Buehrle left to a standing ovation from a large number of Blue Jays fans who made the trip. For now, Buehrle remains non-committal about his plans for 2016.
"Obviously I gave up seven or eight runs, so I wasn't able to soak it up as much as I wanted to," Buehrle said. "I had tons of family here seeing if I could get to 200 one more time. My wife and kids and a bunch of friends were here. It would have been nicer to go out on a better note. My teammates were rooting for me to get the 200. ... It's unfortunate, but tomorrow's going to come. We're in the playoffs and hopefully we can come out on a high note on Thursday." More >
Nine-run first: Fueled by Butler's grand slam and Mahtook's two-run shot, the Rays scored nine runs in the first inning, their biggest single inning since June 5, 2008, in Miami when they scored 10 runs in the fifth inning.
"All these teams that get to the playoffs are good teams. From when we've played them obviously [Yovani] Gallardo has thrown the ball well against us, Cole Hamels is always tough and they've been rolling since the Trade Deadline, as well. They've been one of the hottest teams in the game. Even the last series we played against them, I know we won two of the three, but one of them was a comeback late and it was tight. It will be a tough series for us." -- Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos, on his team facing the Rangers in the ALDS.
"We do not think we're far at all." -- Cash, when asked if he thought his club was far from being a contender
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
The nine runs Toronto allowed in the first inning were one shy of the most in franchise history for that frame. The Blue Jays previously surrendered 10 during the first inning of a game against the Red Sox on June 26, 1994. The most runs Toronto allowed in any inning is 11, and that happened in the seventh of a game against the Royals on Aug. 6, 1979.
Moore finished the season 2-1 with a 2.97 ERA in his final six starts of the season after starting 1-5 with an 8.78 ERA in his first six starts back from Tommy John surgery.