ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Perhaps if Jose Berrios strings that mellow comebacker from Manuel Margot, or just leaves it to Cavan Biggio to collect, the opening of a meaningful four-game set against the Tampa Bay Rays won’t unravel as dramatically as it did for the Toronto Blue Jays .
It is neatly handled by both players and leads to the last out of the second inning on Thursday with a 3-3 score. Instead, the ball was deflected just enough from Berrios’ glove that Biggio had no play, the first of three RBI basehits that restored a three-run Tampa Bay lead right after a Blue Jays rally, ending the rightman’s night on two innings and 74 pitches and sent the Rays to a 10-5 romp.
“I saw the ball roll slowly and I had a chance to catch it, but I think I reacted a bit late and that’s why I just missed it,” Berrios said. “Biggio was back there, so if I let it go, he can catch and make the zero. That’s instinct for me. I was an infielder and when I go out I want to throw the ball and then be another outfield player.”
The setback narrowed the Blue Jays (84-66) lead over the Rays (83-67) for the top wildcard spot to one game, with the Seattle Mariners (82-67) winning 9-5 at Oakland earlier Thursday. 1.5 of the pace.
While bad luck may have played a part in that Margot single, and the soft flare Wander Franco chopped just out of Bo Bichette’s reach, and the grounder Randy Arozarena shot through the 5-6 hole, this match was a thorough mess for the Blue Jays.
After a discouraging 4-3 loss, 10 innings and four hours and eight minutes to the Philadelphia Phillies on Wednesday night, leading to a 4:00 AM arrival in St. Petersburg, Florida, the Blue Jays began a series against a key rival with a chance to create real division in the standings.
They got off to a quick start in front of a sparse Tropicana Field crowd of 8,799 when George Springer tripled and Bichette doubled him in the first opener JT Chargois.
But Berrios, in an outing that interim manager John Schneider described as “kinda weird that he got ahead and then didn’t send any guys away,” was off the hook. Jonathan Aranda led off with a homerun, Arozarena tripled by Margot, then scored on a wild pitch immediately after on a 31-pitch first.
Homers by Teoscar Hernandez and Whit Merrifield in the second inning off Ryan Yarbrough tied the knot, but Berrios was unable to finish the bottom half and registered two outs around a walk by Ji-Man Choi before four consecutive singles led to three runs. His 43rd throw of the frame led to a David Peralta fly ball that ended the frame.
“I came forward and attacked them, but when I had to finish them and throw that third strike, I couldn’t locate properly,” Berrios said. “That’s why they let me throw a lot of pitches in just two innings. That’s what happened.”
Berrios’ subsequent exit left six bullpen-shredding innings for four relievers, including Foster Griffin in his Blue Jays debut, to cover, which wasn’t ideal with Mitch White going on Friday with a recall against Jeffrey Springs.
“I think we are nice, pretty well equipped and well rested (Friday) in the bullpen,” said Schneider.
Trevor Richards gave up three more runs and David Phelps another as the Rays fended off the Blue Jays charge, even after Ryan Yarbrough exited the game in the third with discomfort on the right, until Merrifield hit his second homer of the night in the ninth. Tampa Bay used a total of seven pitchers.
Griffin is the likely counter move for White as the selection juggling continues for the Blue Jays after they put Santiago Espinal on the injured list with an oblique strain to the left. Otto Lopez was recalled to take his spot and he replaced Bichette in the field in the eighth inning.
Lourdes Gurriel Jr. meanwhile, has resumed training at the club complex in Dunedin, Florida, while recovering from a left hamstring injury, but has yet to run and will be re-evaluated this weekend.
Berrios had been doing well lately, giving up 12 earned runs, striking out 28 in 36.2 innings in six starts, but this year, for the seventh time this year, he held out four innings or less. He has also allowed five runs or more eight times, but his first since an August 12 thud from Cleveland.
“There have certainly been some ups and downs for him this season,” said Schneider. “But I think when you’re at this point in the season you look at the last time and I think he’s been really good lately. You trust a guy with a really good track record in the big leagues to just flush it and move on.”