The Tampa Bay Rays struck first in their wild-card series against Toronto on Tuesday, riding a stellar performance from starter Blake Snell to a 3-1 victory over the Blue Jays in St. Petersburg, Fla.
Snell was dominant over 5 2/3 innings, allowing one hit and striking out nine. Manuel Margot hit a two-run homer in the seventh inning and Pete Fairbanks survived a nervous ninth for the save.
The Blue Jays scored their lone run in the eighth inning when Bo Bichette drove in Rowdy Tellez with a sacrifice fly. Lourdes Gurriel, Jr., doubled in the ninth before Fairbanks struck out Teoscar Hernandez and got Joe Panik on a weak pop-up to end it.
Toronto’s Matt Shoemaker, a surprise starter for the opener of the best-of-three series, threw three scoreless innings in his second start since missing a month due to right shoulder inflammation.
The move was a gamble for the Blue Jays, who felt comfortable taking the chance that their second-best starter, Taijuan Walker, wouldn’t pitch unless the series goes the distance. The decision also allowed ace Hyun-Jin Ryu to get an extra day of rest ahead of his Game 2 start on Wednesday.
Shoemaker gave up two hits and struck out a pair over a 35-pitch outing. With left-hander Robbie Ray on in the fourth inning, Randy Arozarena led off with a triple and scored the game’s first run on a wild pitch.
The Blue Jays threatened in the seventh after Diego Castillo hit Vladimir Guerrero Jr., with a pitch and gave up a one-out single to Gurriel. But Nick Anderson came on and retired Hernandez and Panik.
In the bottom half, A.J. Cole walked Joey Wendle before Margot went deep on a 1-1 pitch.
Snell, who won the AL Cy Young Award in 2018, was consistently ahead in counts and didn’t allow a hit until Alejandro Kirk led off the sixth inning with a single. He walked two batters and threw 48-of-82 pitches for strikes.
Ray settled in after his early hiccup, throwing three innings of one-hit ball while striking out five. Ryan Borucki and Thomas Hatch also pitched for the Blue Jays, who held Tampa Bay to four hits.
The Rays are the top seed in the American League after a 40-20 regular season. The Blue Jays took the eighth and final seed after a 32-28 campaign.
Toronto went 4-6 against the Rays in the regular season but outscored Tampa Bay 48-44 overall. Four of the Blue Jays’ six losses were by one run.
The Blue Jays finalized their 28-man series roster earlier in the day. Tellez, who missed three weeks with a knee strain, made the cut while injured reliever Jordan Romano (finger) of Markham, Ont., did not.
This is the first time that the Rays and Blue Jays have met in the playoffs. Tyler Glasnow is listed as Tampa Bay’s probable starter for Game 2 ahead of Charlie Morton in Game 3.
The Rays, who have yet to win a World Series since making their debut in 1998, lost in the American League Division Series last year.
The Blue Jays, who won championships in 1992 and ‘93, are making their first playoff appearance since 2016.
Notes: The game took three hours six minutes to play. … Kirk, who batted eighth as the designated hitter, hadn’t played above the single-A level before this year. He hit .375 over nine games in the regular season. … The Rays are listed as 6-1 picks to win the World Series, according to Bodog. The Blue Jays are a 28-1 longshot. … This is Toronto’s eighth all-time post-season appearance. The first one came in 1985.
THE CANADIAN PRESS