How else could you describe it?
“It felt like potential playoff baseball, for sure,” Rays starter Jeffrey Springs said.
Thanks to a four-run eighth inning, the Rays secured their second straight win and tied the Blue Jays for the top spot in the American League Wild Card race. They didn’t just erase the Blue Jays’ edge in the standings, either. Friday’s victory also clinched the season series, giving Tampa Bay the tiebreaker if these two clubs finish as they are now, with identical records.
“Exciting game. We know we're playing a very good team,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “No lead’s good enough with that lineup. We just kind of went back and forth. … Certainly this game was fitting of two good teams really competing.”
Tampa Bay and Toronto exchanged blows for seven innings. The Rays built an early lead, lost it, took it back, gave it up again then finally prevailed, reducing their magic number to clinch a postseason berth to seven.
Cash deftly deployed his bench options in the eighth to help the Rays break a 6-6 tie against reliever Yimi Garcia. Left-handed pinch-hitter Ji-Man Choi worked a leadoff walk, then exited in favor of pinch-runner Taylor Walls … who had been a precautionary scratch from the lineup about two hours before first pitch due to right groin tightness.
Rookie Miles Mastrobuoni, who made his first career start in Walls’ place, delivered a key single to right field that advanced Walls from first to third.
“Coming up at this time, I mean, it's all hands on deck,” said Mastrobuoni, who recorded his first Major League hit in the fifth inning. “Do whatever you can to help the team win.”
Up came David Peralta, another left-handed pinch-hitter, who lifted a sacrifice fly to right field. The Rays made the aggressive decision to send Walls from third, and he slid home safely to score the go-ahead run.
“His groin looks pretty good,” Cash quipped.
With two on and two outs, Harold Ramírez hit a grounder that slipped past Blue Jays shortstop Bo Bichette and into left field, allowing Mastrobuoni to score. Wander Franco kept the inning going with an infield single, then Arozarena swatted a two-run single off the left-field fence, though he was thrown out trying to advance to second.
“There were so many big at-bats,” Cash said. “When you go back and forth, a lot of people have got to play a big role -- and it felt like they did.”
Nobody played a bigger role than Arozarena, who drove in a career-high six runs and smashed his 20th homer of the season to right field to turn the Rays’ one-run deficit into a two-run lead in the fifth inning.
“It was definitely a big game. We're both trying to get the top spot of the Wild Card,” said Arozarena, who leads the Majors with 40 RBIs since Aug. 1, through interpreter Manny Navarro. “We were able to take the advantage there late in the game.”
Arozarena’s line drive off reliever Anthony Bass zipped over the lowered section of the right-field wall, just inside the foul pole, sealing the third 20-homer, 30-steal season in franchise history (alongside B.J. Upton’s 2011 and ‘12 campaigns). Arozarena has made it no secret that a second straight 20-20 season was his goal, and here the reigning AL Rookie of the Year is with 20 homers and 32 stolen bases.
“Just another tremendous season,” Cash said.
But the Blue Jays answered again in the sixth, when high-leverage reliever Jason Adam gave up a single to Danny Jansen that scored Teoscar Hernández and a sacrifice fly to George Springer that brought home Raimel Tapia. Those runs tied the game and snapped Adam’s franchise-record streak of stranding 27 consecutive inherited runners.
Reliever Javy Guerra pitched two scoreless innings after that, becoming the 26th different Tampa Bay pitcher to record a win this season, and the Rays responded in the eighth. Right-hander Pete Fairbanks shut the door, earning his ninth save and extending his career-best scoreless streak to 20 appearances.
“Shouts to the offense,” Fairbanks said. “There have been games where we've picked them up, and tonight was one where they were able to come and pick us up -- and I thought it was great to see.”