Justin Smoak lifts Blue Jays past Rays with walk-off shot
Toronto Blue Jays' Justin Smoak reacts after hitting the game-winning home run against the Tampa Bay Rays in a baseball game in Toronto on Thursday, Sept. 20, 2018. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP)
By IAN HARRISON
TORONTO (AP) Tampa Bay's stirring September run took a sudden sour turn in Toronto.
Justin Smoak homered with two outs in the ninth inning to give the Blue Jays a 9-8 victory over the Rays on Thursday night, dealing a blow to Tampa Bay's wild-card playoff hopes.
"This one definitely puts us in a very difficult position," Rays infielder Matt Duffy said. "We're going to bounce back, we're going to do what we can. Mathematically we're still in it so we're going to keep going until this thing is over."
The Rays entered having won five straight and a major league-high 14 games in September, a surge that had brought them within 5 1-2 games of Oakland in the race for the AL's second wild card.
"Especially when the team is rolling like this, it's tough to let these guys down," Rays right-hander Jamie Schultz said after allowing four runs in the ninth.
Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash was playing down his team's postseason chances after a dispiriting defeat that saw his team concede three home runs in a seven-run bottom of the ninth.
"In reality, we're much farther than people are wanting to recognize," Cash said. "We need a lot of things to go in our favor. Losses like this don't help."
Smoak won it with his team-leading 25th homer of the season and third career walk-off blast. Sergio Romo (3-4) blew his eighth save in 30 opportunities.
"Romo, he's got a good slider," Smoak said. "I was just trying to get a pitch up and out over the plate. I felt like all night I was kinda pulling off everything so I just tried to stay on it. I was able to put a good swing on it finally."
Right-hander David Paulino (1-0) pitched an inning for the victory as Toronto won for the fourth time in its past five.
Trailing 8-2 to begin the ninth, the Blue Jays roared back. Rowdy Tellez hit an RBI double and Danny Jansen chased Schultz with a three-run homer. Romo came on and struck out Richard Urena, but pinch hitter Kendrys Morales reached on a bloop single and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. tied it with a two-run homer to left.
Smoak followed with a first pitch drive to right, Toronto's fourth homer of the game. It marked the eighth time this season the Blue Jays have hit back-to-back home runs.
"Anytime you're up 8-2 and find a way to lose the game, that's tough," Cash said.
C.J. Cron had three RBI for the Rays, who dropped 6 1/2 games behind Oakland. The Athletics routed the Los Angeles Angels 21-3 on Thursday.
Oakland has nine games remaining while the Rays have 10, including six more with Toronto. Tampa Bay is 9-4 against the Blue Jays this season.
"I think this game tonight is definitely more of an outlier than anything," Duffy said. "Unfortunately, the timing of it is not great."
Tellez opened the scoring with a two-run homer off Rays right-hander Ryne Stanek in the second, his second. The Rays answered against right-hander Sam Gaviglio in the fourth, when Pham hit an RBI triple and Wendle followed with a double.
Adames hit for Brandon Lowe with one out and runners at first and second in the sixth. Right-hander Jake Petricka replaced lefty Jose Fernandez (0-1), but Adames put the Rays in front with a ground ball single up the middle, his first career pinch-hit RBI. Kevin Kiermaier walked to load the bases but Tim Mayza came on and struck out pinch hitters Cron and Carlos Gomez.
Stanek made his 27th start as the Rays used an "opener" for the 50th time this season. Yonny Chirinos (5-5) replaced Stanek after the first three batters reached safely in the second and pitched 4 2-3 innings.
Tampa Bay looked to have broken it open with a five-run, 10-batter seventh. Cron had the big hit, a two-out, bases-loaded bloop single that dropped in front of sliding left fielder Billy McKinney, allowing Kiermaier to score from first.
Tellez has 10 extra base hits in his first 40 plate appearances. According to STATS, that ties Taylor Teagarden (2008) for the most since 1913.
Gaviglio retired the first six batters in order on ground balls, four of them comebackers to the mound.
The Rays set a season-high with four stolen bases.
Rays RHP Diego Castillo will start Friday against Blue Jays RHP Sean Reid-Foley (2-3, 5.54). Castillo Reid-Foley has struck out 10 in two of his past three starts, including a Sept. 15 victory at Yankee Stadium.
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Updated September 20, 2018