Sports

Blue Jays unable to stage comeback against Rays

By Scott Mitchell, Toronto Sun

Blue Jays starter Marcus Stroman delivers to the plate during MLB action against the Rays at the Rogers Centre in Toronto on Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2016. (Stan Behal/Toronto Sun/Postmedia Network)

Blue Jays starter Marcus Stroman delivers to the plate during MLB action against the Rays at the Rogers Centre in Toronto on Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2016. (Stan Behal/Toronto Sun/Postmedia Network)

Once again, Toronto Blue Jays faithful showed up in droves.

Thanks to 38,338 of them taking in a Tuesday night affair against the Tampa Bay Rays at Rogers Centre, the franchise surpassed the three-million fans mark for the first time since a somewhat-memorable 1993 campaign ended in a champagne shower.

Once again, however, the Blue Jays offence did not show up, spoiling the party for the fans that did.

Coming into the night, the Jays’ slumping bats were the not-so-proud owners of a .227 average and a .360 slugging percentage over the past 13 games, second-worst in the American League in both of those categories.

That didn’t change much in Tuesday’s 6-2 loss to the last-place Rays, as the Jays (79-65) scattered nine hits but stranded seven runners in agonizing fashion.

“We just couldn’t get that big blow,” Jays manager John Gibbons allowed after the game. “We had a couple shots at it, but we couldn’t get that big one.”

Catcher Russell Martin provided all of the offence with a two-run blast, his 18th of the season, in the sixth inning to pull the Jays to within one, but that was all they could muster.

“Another big knock here or there and maybe we would’ve had a different outcome, but it just wasn’t our night tonight,” Martin said.

Thanks to the New York Yankees (77-67) and Baltimore Orioles (79-65) both winning, the Jays also lost ground in the wildcard battle, but continue to sit two games back of the Boston Red Sox (81-63) in the AL East pennant race.

While the Jays were failing to capitalize on opportunities Tuesday, the Rays (61-83) were scratching out seven hits, but mostly being aided by the seven walks — plus one beanball — issued by the Toronto pitching staff.

The free passes started early, too.

Jays starter Marcus Stroman was wild, walking four Rays on the night, but he kept his team in the game, giving up three earned runs — all of them on a home run by shortstop Alexei Ramirez — in six innings, allowing just four hits while striking out four.

“My stuff feels great, but we’re in September and we’re at the point now where we need to be getting wins, so it’s frustrating,” said Stroman, who fell to 9-8 on the year. “Wash it and get to the next one, but at the end of it, we have to start winning games here and the whole morale of the team is confident, we just have to go out there and do it.”

Rays starter Drew Smyly (7-11) produced a similar line, pitching into the sixth inning before giving up a two-run home run to Martin and exiting with a 3-2 lead that would hold up for the win.

“He’s one of those guys that’s had our number,” Gibbons said. “I mean, there’s guys like that. There’s a couple of them over in that room.

“He’s always been tough on us.”

Smyly was cruising early, giving up just two singles — Troy Tulowitzki and Darwin Barney, in the lineup for a second-straight game with Josh Donaldson sitting out with a sore hip, found green — through four innings.

For Stroman, the walks caught up to him in the fourth inning.

First, Rays outfielder Corey Dickerson doubled, before Stroman walked his fourth hitter of the night in Steven Souza Jr.

Ramirez, hitting eighth in Rays manager Kevin Cash’s order, then provided the big blow with a three-run home run that left fielder Melvin Upton Jr. could only watch sail into the bullpen to give the Rays a 3-0 lead.

Stroman left a two-seam fastball up in the zone and Ramirez capitalized.

“Obviously, one pitch to Ramirez, we’d like to get that one back, but that’s really the story of the day, that one pitch,” Martin said.

“We could throw that pitch probably nine-out-of-10 times, maybe get a little bit more sink on it, get a ground ball and we’re out of the inning. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case right there.”

The only thing that excited the home fans through the first five-and-a-half innings was the announcement that the Jays had surpassed three million in attendance this season, with the running total of 3,026,605 making it the first time the franchise has broken three million in 23 seasons.

Shortly after a rousing applause for the fans showing up, the Blue Jays offence, momentarily, did, too.

Smyly walked designated hitter Jose Bautista, and two batters later, Martin snapped an 0-for-17 skid with a two-run moonshot into the second deck to pull the Jays to within one.

With Stroman’s night done, right-hander Joe Biagini entered in the seventh, and after getting Dickerson swinging, he promptly gave one back to the Rays when he grooved one to Souza Jr., who didn’t miss and deposited it over the left field wall for a 4-2 lead.

In the ninth, the Rays got an insurance run after relievers Matt Dermody and Scott Feldman combined to load the bases on a single and a pair of walks, eventually allowing Dickerson to score on leadoff man Logan Forsythe’s slow roller to short that had no chance to turn two.

They’d tack on another one when Aaron Loup continued the wildness, finding the backstop instead of the plate, essentially sealing the game in the process.

The series rubber-match goes Wednesday afternoon with Marco Estrada on the hill for the Jays.