This game was a performance sandwich with outstanding offense in the first and ninth innings, sloppy pitching, and defense in the middle. Thankfully, the Tampa Bay Rays recovered from blowing a five-run lead to defeat the Toronto Blue Jays 7-6 in their penultimate regular season home game of the 2023 season.
The first inning saw the Rays strike first when Yandy Diaz rocketed his 21st home run of the season to leadoff, giving Tampa Bay an early lead. The rest of the inning witnessed a series of memorable moments. After a walk to Harold Ramirez, Junior Caminero, who was making his MLB debut, managed to snag his first walk. This patient approach was rewarded shortly after when Josh Lowe belted a three-run homer to center, upping the Rays’ lead to 4-0. The inning was a reminder of the offensive firepower the Rays are capable of despite all of the injuries to key players.
The Rays added another run in the fourth inning with a solo homer from Christian Bethancourt to lead off the inning. The Blue Jays, however, were far from done.
In the sixth inning, the Blue Jays began to mount their comeback. The inning started with two quick outs. However, a string of misplays fueled a Toronto rally instead of closing out the inning. Kevin Kiermaier reached safely at first base after thanks to a throwing error by Curtis Mead after replay overturned the original call on the field. Tyler Heineman had a strikeout swinging that also should have ended the inning, but Bethancourt dropped the strike then made a throwing error to first ending Zack Littell’s start. Shawn Armstrong was not any luckier as George Springer made the Rays pay for their mistake by smashing a two-run double. Hits from Bo Bichette, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., and Cavan Biggio cut the Rays’ lead to just a single run. The inning was a reminder of the potential for the Blue Jays lineup to strike quickly and put some runs on the board.
Whit Merrifield reached safely on a throwing error by Taylor Walls to first base and advanced to second. Kevin Kiermaier later hit a fly ball into foul territory that was caught by Ramirez for the second out. Harold fired the ball toward home plate and was able to turn the flyout into a double play as Bethancourt caught the ball of a hop and successfully tagged Merrifield out at home to preserve a one-run lead for the Rays for the moment. It was the first outfield assist for Ramirez who is filling in while Arozarena is out.
You gotta love baseball. According to https://t.co/FzYqOdxUzm, Harold Ramirez has never had an outfield assist in 245 MLB games. He just threw Whit Merrifield out at the plate to keep the #Rays ahead of the #BlueJays 5-4 in the 7th inning.— John Romano (@romano_tbtimes) September 23, 2023
By the eighth inning, the drama ratcheted up even further. Toronto’s Santiago Espinal started things off with a pinch-hit double. With two outs, the Rays sent Pete Fairbanks to the mound and everything but the third out was the result as the Blue Jays got four consecutive baserunners and the go-ahead run without putting a single ball in play. Back-to-back walks, a hit by pitch, and a bases-loaded walk turned the tables, giving the Blue Jays their first lead of the game, making it 6-5 in favor of Toronto.
However, the Rays weren’t done. The bottom of the ninth was marked by electrifying plays and strategic decisions. Having an impactful game, Yandy Diaz kickstarted the inning with a double. Raimel Tapia, making his Rays debut, took Diaz’s spot on the bases as a pinch-runner, representing the tying run. Consecutive singles from Ramirez and Mead brought Tapia home, tying the game at 6-6. The Rays seemed poised for more, but a brilliant defensive play by the Blue Jays shortstop Bo Bichette resulted in a force out. However, the Rays would have the last laugh. With two men on, Josh Lowe delivered the final blow, a sharp single to left, bringing in the winning run and rewarding the excited crowd at Tropicana Field with a walk-off win.
For Junior Caminero, it was an MLB debut to remember. He showcased his patience at the plate with a walk in his first plate appearance and notched his first hit and run, solidifying his memorable first outing in the big leagues. After getting his first hit he pointed with pride and joy towards his parents in the stands.
Tapia’s Rays debut was equally memorable. After being called up from Triple-A Durham earlier in the day, Tapia found himself in the thick of the action, representing the tying run in the ninth and eventually scoring to set up the dramatic finish.
The Tampa Bay Rays continue to show their resilience and “next-man-up” mentality as they clinched the top Wild Card spot for the American League. There is still a very outside shot for the division but this team will need to continue to be resilient to have a chance to advance to and win the final game of the season.