Rays drop regular-season finale to Blue Jays, set sights on postseason
TORONTO (AP) — Blake Snell is searching for his best form as October approaches.
The Tampa Bay Rays hope their ace left-hander gets another chance to find it.
Snell lost in a tuneup for a potential postseason outing, and the Rays were beaten by the Toronto Blue Jays 8-3 Sunday in their last game before the wild card playoff against the Oakland Athletics.
Tampa Bay finished 96-66, one win shy of the franchise record set the 2008 pennant-winning team that lost to Philadelphia in the World Series. The Rays headed to Oakland for Wednesday’s matchup against the A’s (97-65), when Charlie Morton (16-6) will start. The winner of that game starts the Division Series at AL West champion Houston on Friday.
“Charlie has been dominant all year, no question,” the Rays’ Austin Meadows said of Morton. “I know he’s going to do his thing like he’s done all year.”
Making his third appearance returning from elbow surgery, Snell (6-8) allowed two runs and three hits in 2 1/3 innings. Snell threw 37 of 62 pitches for strikes, up from 26 pitches in his first outing and 52 in his second.
“I had metal rods in my arm what, six or seven weeks ago,” Snell said. “To be where I am right now and to feel how I feel, this whole week throwing I felt really good, and then today I felt good so I’m happy with that. I just feel like I’m going to get better and better.”
Rays manager Kevin Cash acknowledged that Snell’s command is off but said the defending AL Cy Young Award winner has plenty of room to improve.
“I’ve got a feeling that Blake, if we get the opportunity to pitch him again, he’s going to find a second gear,” Cash said. “He’s capable of doing that.”
Toronto went 67-95, six wins fewer than last year and the Blue Jays’ first 90-loss season since they went 67-94 in 2004.
“To be 33-38 after the (All-Star) break and 12-13 in September, that’s awesome,” first-year manager Charlie Montoyo said. “We improved and we’re playing really well. There’s momentum heading into next year.”
Teoscar Hernández homered for the third straight game, extending his career-best total to 26, as the Blue Jays won for the ninth time in their final 13 games.
Toronto drew 25,738 and finished with home attendance of 1,750,144, down from 2,325,281 last year and 3,203,886 fans in 2017. They dropped below 2 million for the first time since 2011.
In likely his final game with Toronto, Justin Smoak went 2 for 4 with two doubles and three RBIs. Eligible for free agency, Smoak left to a standing ovation when he was replaced by pinch-runner Billy McKinney in the seventh.
“A great moment,” Montoyo said.
Clay Buchholz (2-5) allowed one run and four hits in five innings to win for the first time since Aug. 31 against Houston.
Back in the lineup after missing the previous two games because of a sore foot, Rays first baseman Ji-Man Choi doubled in the first and hit his 19th homer in the fourth. Jesús Aguilar replaced Choi in the fourth.
NO QUIT IN KK
Two-time Gold Glove winner Kevin Kiermaier made an outstanding diving catch in center to retire Richard Ureña in the second.
“I wasn’t thrilled with it,” Cash joked. “It was a really good play but that was enough to get him out of the game.”
Blue Jays INF Cavan Biggio singled and scored in the first. Biggio reached safely in his final 29 games, a Blue Jays rookie record.
Rays: INF Yandy Díaz (left foot) was activated off the 60-day IL and RHP Cole Sulser was designated for assignment. Díaz started as the designated hitter and led off, going 0 for 3 before being replaced by a pinch hitter. Díaz lined out in both the first and third innings, hitting the ball at more than 100 mph each time. “I felt good,” Díaz said through a translator. “I hit the ball hard, I was up there with a lot of onfidence.” … INF Eric Sogard, sidelined since Sept. 15 because of a sore right foot and ankle, said he’s optimistic he’ll be available Wednesday.