Led by Manoah’s steely performance, Blue Jays settle score with Rays

4 weeks ago 16

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – In the final week of the 2016 season, as the Toronto Blue Jays fought tooth and nail to secure a wild-card berth, they got into a brawl with the New York Yankees. Luis Severino buzzed Josh Donaldson, J.A. Happ hit Chase Headley, Severino hit Justin Smoak and then, it was time to rumble.

Things got wild and, during the fracas, Joaquin Benoit tore his calf running in from the bullpen and Devon Travis tweaked his shoulder. The Blue Jays were fortunate no one was suspended.

Given how the ill feelings created by Kevin Kiermaier picking up Alejandro Kirk’s catcher card after it became dislodged during a play at the plate the previous night could have spun out of control Tuesday night, that 2016 fracas offers a timely cautionary tale.

Alek Manoah could certainly have settled a score by throwing at the Tampa Bay Rays outfielder. But a much better outcome for the Blue Jays is the double-play ball and two strikeouts he got from Kiermaier during a 4-2 win that’s of far more value right now than schoolyard vengeance.

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In recognizing what’s really at stake right now for his team, the 23-year-old rookie delivered a steely performance that belies his age, working around five hits and six walks to allow only two runs in six innings. The Rays threatened in all but one of the six frames against him, yet Manoah kept making key pitch after key pitch to keep the game under control.

In the sixth, after Joey Wendle’s two-out RBI single tied the game 2-2 in the fifth, the Blue Jays went up for good on Bo Bichette’s sacrifice fly and padded the margin in the eighth on Teoscar Hernandez’s run-scoring single.

Tim Mayza in the seventh, Trevor Richards in the eighth, Jordan Romano in a nervous ninth, during which he loaded the bases, locked down the win for the Blue Jays (85-66), who maintained their half-game lead over the New York Yankees (85-67), 7-1 winners over Texas, for the second wild card.

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Manoah was suspended earlier this season after Major League Baseball ruled that he threw intentionally at Maikel Franco during a June 19 game at Baltimore, so any shenanigans on his part Tuesday would have been even more costly. And considering that Hyun Jin Ryu is already on the injured list – he long-tossed before the game and is on track to start Tuesday’s opener against the Yankees in Toronto – the Blue Jays could not risk him taking any chances.

While he at times lost the zone against the Rays, the erratic pitches that have led to 12 hit batters so far weren’t there, ensuring there were no potential misunderstandings.

Mostly, Manoah was in battle mode, as Brandon Lowe and Ji-Man Choi reached to open the first, forcing a gutty escape from the outset. Lowe’s RBI single in the second opened the scoring and after Brevic Valera’s RBI groundout in the third and Lourdes Gurriel Jr.’s solo shot in the fifth put the Blue Jays up 2-1, Wendle’s single in the fifth knotted things up.

Helping his cause Kirk throwing out Austin Meadows trying to steal second in the third and Hernandez throwing out the DH out trying for third on Wendle’s single in the fifth.

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