It took two days to decide a winner after rain suspended play in Buffalo (that still feels weird to type) on Saturday night, leaving Sunday to decide a winner between the Rays and Jays in the middle game of their three-game set.
Things got started Saturday evening at 6:40 in what is definitely the most post-apocalyptic of settings in what is an all-around post-apocalyptic season. It’s strange enough watching Major League Baseball with cardboard cutouts instead of fans and piped-in noise, but when you add in the fact that the Jays’ “home games” aren’t even being played in an MLB stadium, man, it just doesn’t feel right.
But both teams are professionals and they gave us a pretty good nine innings of baseball stretched across 21 hours.
Ray Yarbrough got the start for the Jays, a team against whom he has had lots of success in his career, with a 2.14 ERA and 0.952 WHIP over 42.0 innings against the division rivals.
Yarbs looked solid to start, sprinkling a few hits across the first two innings, while Chase Anderson did the same for the Blue Jays.
The first run came across in the top of the third when Austin Meadows put Tampa Bay on the board first with an absolute no-doubter. Anderson tried to sneak a fastball by him, and let’s just put it this way: He was unsuccessful in that mission.
AUSTIN MEADOWS INTO THE PARKING LOT pic.twitter.com/8n8its3D3H— Baseball Quotes (@BaseballQuotes1) August 15, 2020
Yarbrough danced around another couple hits in the third, and old friend Wilmer Font gave the Jays a scoreless top of the fourth before the weather rolled in. At first, it appeared as though it would only be a brief delay and back to baseball, but the weather gods had other ideas, suspending the game for the day, to be picked back up at 1:05 on Sunday.
On the restart, the Jays instantly tied things up with the BABIP powers that be favoring them, as a bloop double, a passed ball, and a chopper through the pulled-in, shifted infield tied things up at 1-1.
The Rays got a run of their own in their first offensive inning of the restart to retake the lead, as Yandy Diaz, who has been doing it all season, went to the opposite field for a single before Ji-Man Choi roped one down the right field line to bring Diaz rumbling home.
The Rays lead didn’t last long, however, as Toronto tied it back up with some two-out magic of their own in the bottom half of the fifth. Teoscar Hernandez keeping his good season going with a double to left that Meadows was unable to cut off, allowing Joe Panik to come around from first and make it 2-2.
The Toronto bats continued to find every little gap in the Rays defense in the sixth, with Peter Fairbanks eventually coming on to put out the “second and third, one out” fire. The hard-throwing righty was able to locate as well as he has all season on Sunday, looking excellent in inducing Brandon Drury into a fielder’s choice to third (nice play by Yandy) and then fanning Cavan Biggio to keep the score remain tied in a massive pivot moment in the game.
In the top of the seventh, Rafael Dolis was brought in by the Jays to put out a fire of his own: Bases loaded, one out. Dolis was able to Houdini his way out of his own jam, as the two teams moved on to the eighth innings all tied at 2-2.
Neither team pushed around any runs in the eighth, and then in the ninth... Ok let’s pause here for a second...
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During this most recent offseason, I became the Brandon Lowe skeptic around the DRB offices. I am a big believer in plate discipline and the 34.6 percent strikeout rate compared to 7.6 percent walk rate from 2019 scared me. Add in the fact that pitchers seemed to be realizing they could pepper him with sliders, and I was pretty high and mighty about pegging Lowe as a top regression candidate for 2020.
I was horribly wrong.
And I am so, so happy to have been so, so, so wrong.
Lowe is legitimate.
It may blow our minds to see all that pop from a guy his size, but it’s real. He’s third in baseball in OPS this season, and he’s passing every advanced metric with flying colors. His .635 xSLG ranks fourth among players with at least 80 PA, and his 12.5 percent barrels/PA percentage ranks fifth among batters with at least 50 batted ball events.
I’m truly hoping that this admittance doesn’t act as a jinx of sorts, but it’s official: Doubting Thomas has become Fan Girl Thomas. I’m a Brandon Lowe believer. Please welcome me aboard, even if I was late getting on.
Anyway, back to the game...
* * *
In the top of the ninth, the Jays turned to Jordan Romano—and poor Romano—it was not bound to be a Pax Romano today. The 6’ 5” righty left a 2-2 slider up in the zone, and pitches like that, when thrown to Brandon Lowe, travel very far.
Brandon Lowe is INSANE!— Jordan Moore (@iJordanMoore) August 16, 2020
Lowe has 4 home runs in his last 4 games, and 6 straight games with an extra base hit. He has the most XBH in the entire MLB (16). He now leads all AL position players in fWAR (1.2).
This HR gave the Rays the lead.#Rays | #RaysUp pic.twitter.com/CUNVIydPld
That was all the Rays would need, as they turned to Nick Anderson (who remains one of the best deadline acquisitions made by any team in recent seasons) who shut down the ninth without any semblance of doubt, giving the Rays the 3-2 win and improving their record to 13-9.
The Rays are already back in action, with the series finale against the Jays having just started. Hopefully the Rays can get a nice little 1.5-win (times 2.7?!) day on Sunday with Yonny Chirinos back on the mound.