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Rays 3 Blue Jays 1: Can I exhale yet?

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Rays take first game in best of three series

Wild Card Round - Toronto Blue Jays v Tampa Bay Rays - Game One Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Phew.

The Rays won the first game of their Wild Card series tonight.

They were leading the whole way; they won by two runs; and yet I found this game to be very stressful. Toronto had some good scoring chances, probably more than the Rays did, so once the game got into the later innings it felt that it could easily tip the other way.

But it didn’t, and we have less than a day to enjoy the win.

First, some pregame notes. You may notice some non-cardboard people in the stands. This includes player family members who are quarantining with the team. There are other sections for a few non-quarantined family members.

We have our ceremonial first pitch:

The first in-stadium pitch was a 95mph strike from Snell en route to a strikeout of Cavin Biggio. Bo Bichette followed with a grounder that looked destined for hitsville but Adames had other ideas with a lovely nab and throw. Snell walked Grichuk but that was it for the Blue Jays. This would be the first of 5.2 innings of excellent Blake Snell pitching.

The Rays got their first hit in the bottom of the first, as Brandon Lowe mishit a ball that went for an infield single against the shift.

And both teams did not have much offense going for the next few innings.

Charlie Montoyo took made a gamble to hold his best pitcher, Ryu, for the second game, starting Matt Schoemaker no doubt with the plan of piggybacking him with several other pitchers. And for the most part his plan worked. Shoemaker did well to hold the Rays to two singles through three innings. He was replaced in the fourth by Robbie Ray, and he’s the one who yielded the Rays first run. He gave up a lead off triple to Randy “speed and power” Arozarena.

He struck out Nate Lowe by truly painting the corners at Nate watched three strikes go by, but walked Adames, the last ball being a wild pitch that allowed the run to score. Hello playoffs! Rays 1 Jays 0.

As we began the sixth inning, Snell had given up two walks but no hits, which generated the blasted MLB no-hitter alert, which of course brought on the evil eye in the form of a single by Alejandro Kirk, a guy who was not expected to be playing post season ball and who I think I can say with great kindness does not look like your typical ballplayer. Anyway, that is not germane to our story; his relevance is simply in spoiling the no hitter. Snell got the next two lefty batters — striking out Cavan Biggio for the third time, the last pitch a slider breaking low in the zone — and was (unhappily) replaced by Diego Castillo, who got the last out of the inning.

A brief digression here about Blake’s outing. It was really good. 5.2 innings, one single, two walks and nine strikeouts. I counted 19 whiffs, coming on all his pitches, but maybe favoring the breaking stuff. This was vintage, Cy Young, pre-bathroom incident Snell and was great to see. And Snell was reasonably efficient, too. Blake can get a lot of full counts and long innings, but he left mid-sixth with just 82 pitches. I assume Cash pulled him because he might have been tiring and he was about to encounter some strong right handed bats. I have come to trust in the Kevin regarding these decisions but part of me wanted to see another inning of Snell.

The Rays got a little breathing room in the bottom of the seventh. Manuel Margot was not the guy I was looking to for power - he hit one home run this year — but the great thing about the 2020 Rays is that the big hit can come from anyone. After Joey Wendle drew a patient 7 pitch walk, Margot hit an 86-mph cutter into left center bleachers. Rays up 3-0

Meanwhile, however, the Blue Jays were putting some pressure on the Rays pen. Diego Castillo came back out for the seventh; after he gave up a hit and also hit a batter Cash went to the flawless Mr. Nick Anderson, to finish the inning. Anderson also started the 8th. Rowdy Tellez got an off the end of the bat single, after which Biggio, who looked silly against Snell, jumped all over Anderson’s fastball for a double, putting two runners in scoring position with just one out. Bo Bichette hit a sacrifice fly to right (could Margot have gotten Tellez at the plate with a throw that was not completely off line?) but that was all the scoring as Willy Adames snared a 105 mph liner from Randal Grichuk out of the air. Mid-8th inning Rays maintained a 3-1 lead.

So the Rays called on Pete Fairbanks to close out the game. Although 12 Rays pitchers have famously gotten saves in this 60 game season, Fairbanks was not one of them — although he has been used in high leverage situations before. He struck out Vladdy Jr. on a very impressive knee high slider, but got too much plate on a slider to Gurriel, Jr. who doubled. Fairbanks then threw three straight balls to Hernandez and I’ll be honest I started picturing that two run lead evaporating. But he came back with three strikes, and Panik lined out to end the game.

Phew!

Some takeaways? Great pitching from Blake Snell is perhaps most important, along with some good defense — there were a few Willy Adames plays that probably helped keep the Blue Jays largely off the board.

Not a ton of offense! I know baseball is really hard, but watching Nate Lowe (twice!) and Hunter Renfroe go down on three successive called strikes is frustrating.

But the Rays came away with the all important first game win. Let’s hope tomorrow Tyler Glasnow goes full stallion and we get through this series quickly.