Rays face Blue Jays with playoff hopes slipping away
The Tampa Bay Rays have even less room for error to keep their postseason hopes alive after dropping the opener of a four-game series against the Toronto Blue Jays in shocking fashion Thursday night in Toronto.
The Blue Jays scored seven runs in the ninth inning to win 9-8 on the third career walkoff home run by Justin Smoak.
The Blue Jays also had a three-run homer from Danny Jansen in the ninth and a two-run shot from Lourdes Gurriel Jr. that tied it.
The loss ended a five-game winning streak for the Rays and dropped them to 6 1/2 games behind the Oakland Athletics in the race for the second wild-card spot in the American League.
"This one definitely puts us in a very difficult position," Rays infielder Matt Duffy said. "We're going to bounce back, we're going to do what we can. Mathematically we're still in it so we're going to keep going until this thing is over."
The Rays (85-67) are expected to send out Diego Castillo (3-2, 3.14 ERA) as their opener in the second game of the series Friday night at the Rogers Centre. The Blue Jays will counter with right-hander Sean Reid-Foley (2-3, 5.54).
The Blue Jays usually have their troubles with the Rays and, despite the Rays' loss Thursday, Tampa Bay has a 9-4 advantage in the season series.
The Blue Jays and the Rays play six more times as the season winds down. The teams play three more times in Toronto and have three games left at Tropicana Field, a series that closes out the regular season.
After going 0-2 with an 8.68 ERA in his first two major league starts in August, Reid-Foley was returned to Triple-A Buffalo briefly. In his three starts since his return, he is 2-1 with a 3.78 ERA. He has had 10-strikeout games in two of those starts.
He has never faced the Rays.
Castillo will be opening a game for the 10th time this season in his 41st appearance.
He has faced the Blue Jays four times this season, all in relief, and is 2-0 and has not allowed a run in 7 2/3 innings.
While the Rays are still alive, barely, in the race for a postseason spot, the Blue Jays are using September to give experience to their prospects called up from the minors.
"I think the future is bright for us," Gurriel said through an interpreter. "It's always nice to have those guys that I played with last year and this year. I'm happy and fortunate to play with those guys and maybe some of them -- probably all of them -- are going to be my teammates next year. On top of that we got the win. An amazing night and I'm happy for them, too."
Rays manager Kevin Cash said his team needed a lot of help to reach a wild-card spot.
"In reality, we're much farther than people are wanting to recognize," he said. "We need a lot of things to go in our favor. Losses like this don't help. ... Anytime you're up 8-2 and find a way to lose the game, that's tough."