What a rollercoaster of a game!
The Tampa Bay Rays earned their 35th win of the season, but the game took fans on a thrill-seeking journey that would rival most thrill rides at theme parks.
Most rollercoaster rides start with a mild uphill climb to ease you into the experience. This game was no different, as we began with a relatively quiet first inning. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. managed a two-out double for the Blue Jays, but he was left stranded when Matt Chapman lined out to first.
Wander Franco helped keep the excitement building with a line-drive single, and then he got caught trying to steal second base. Despite giving up the hit, Chris Bassitt finished the inning facing the minimum.
Between the first and second inning came the emotional rollercoaster in the form of the tribute video to the former Rays star centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier.
— Tricia Whitaker (@TriciaWhitaker) May 22, 2023
Sweetest tribute to Kevin Kiermaier. All the feels. pic.twitter.com/ZyGjgbVsdJ
The real thrills began at the bottom of the second when Randy Arozarena smashed a line drive toward his former teammate Kevin Kiermaier. The battle between Kiermaier's arm and Arozarena's confidence in his legs resulted in a close play at second that was ruled out on the field. Arozarena rarely believes he is out, and the replay validated his waving finger as the call was overturned.
Btm 2nd - @RaysBaseball challenge call that Randy Arozarena is out at 2B; the Replay Official definitively determined that the batter-runner maintained contact with the base as the fielder was applying the tag, call overturned, runner is safe. Powered by @Zoom. pic.twitter.com/ZGdAOoRfMC— MLB Replays (@MLBReplays) May 23, 2023
The hearts and hopes of the Blue Jays kept going for a loop when, with two outs, Christian Bethancourt reached first safely due to a catching error by the Jays' Vladimir Guerrero Jr., allowing Arozarena to score.
HIGHLIGHT: Randy Arozarena scores on error— Blue Jays PBP (@BlueJaysPBP) May 22, 2023
Christian Bethancourt reaches first on a fielding error by Vladimir Guerrero Jr., plating Randy Arozarena to the Rays a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the 2nd inning
It didn't stop there as Jose Siri hammered a two-run homer, giving the Rays what should have been a comfortable 3-0 lead.
Bat flips don't get any smoother than this. pic.twitter.com/vwZKdA5CtO— Tampa Bay Rays (@RaysBaseball) May 22, 2023
Moving to the third, the Blue Jays' defense continued to play like the field was inverted. Yandy Diaz walked to open the bottom half of the inning and then advanced to second when Franco reached first safe thanks to another catching error by Guererro Jr. An RBI single to center by Isaac Paredes extended the Rays' lead to 4-0.
The Blue Jays offered twists and turns of their own starting in the top of the fourth. With two outs and a 3-1 count, Whit Merrifield launched a two-run homer, igniting a bit of hope, trimming the Rays lead to 4-2.
More highs, lows, and emotional loops came in the bottom of the fifth as the Rays' Wander Franco legged out an exciting triple. In the next at-bat, Brandon Lowe hit a line drive to Kiermaier in center field for an out, and Kiermaier wanted to remind the Rays that he still has a cannon and threw out Franco at home, preventing the Rays from adding to their lead.
97.9 mph!— Sarah Langs (@SlangsOnSports) May 23, 2023
that’s the Blue Jays’ fastest-tracked OF assist under Statcast (2015)
by the way, Kevin Kiermaier has the mark for the Rays in that span, too, with 3 at 100.6 mph pic.twitter.com/SG3Wws3E3U
At the top of the sixth, Paredes wanted to remind everyone why Diaz was playing first with an outstanding defensive play.
That's one way to get some trust from your pitcher pic.twitter.com/qliKrlb5jN— Tampa Bay Rays (@RaysBaseball) May 23, 2023
As the fans chanted his name at the bottom of the sixth, Arozarena launched a solo homer, widening the Rays' lead to 5-2. He crossed his arms to celebrate, though; Rays fans should have crossed their fingers the lead would hold.
Fans chant Randy's name; Randy homers.— Tampa Bay Rays (@RaysBaseball) May 23, 2023
A classic (and predictable) tale. pic.twitter.com/5AQQzQy7xV
More power in the seventh, this time by the Rays' Luke Raley, pushing the score to 6-2.
The home runs.— Tricia Whitaker (@TriciaWhitaker) May 23, 2023
They don’t stop.
Luke Raley joins the party. pic.twitter.com/VMO87DMRxU
The Jays tried to rally in the top of the eighth with George Springer drawing a walk, but a quick double play by the Rays' defense snuffed that out.
Now, let's talk about that exciting top of the ninth as the ride came to an exciting end. Zack Littell was on the mound for the Rays with the task of recording three outs given a four-run lead. After a Chapman pop-up, Daulton Varsho raised the collective heart rate for everyone watching with a solo homer, followed by a series of hits from Alejandro Kirk and Merrifield, resulting in Littell getting lifted for Pete Fairbanks.
Things looked to be in Pete's favor as the first batter he faced, Danny Jansen, hit a fly ball for an out to put the Rays one out away from victory. The Jays removed the chance for a storybook ending by sending Brandon Belt to pinch-hit for Kevin Kiermaier. Belt hit an RBI single, and the score tightened more than a lap bar after lunch to 6-4. The bases got loaded after a walk to Springer as Fairbanks command seemed to be off, but a crucial groundout by Bo Bichette ended the game, securing the 35th win of the season for the Rays.
There were a lot of twists and turns in this game, but the Rays' early lead and strong defensive plays ultimately carried them to victory with some assistance from Blue Jays’ errors. The Jays showed some resilience, though, sparking a rally late, so it'll be interesting to see how they bounce back when these two teams faceoff again tomorrow at 6:40 pm ET, with Taj Bradley (3-0, 3.54 ERA) taking the mound for the Rays opposite José Berríos (3-4, 4.61 ERA) for the Jays.