For a moment, it appeared that the strategy had worked. It hadn’t.
For a moment, it appeared that the Toronto Blue Jays could get out of the jam. They couldn’t.
The Tampa Bay Rays won another close one Saturday night, edging the Blue Jays in 11 innings. And the catalyst to it all was a speedy outfielder who had a career night. Mallex Smith reached base five times, on two hits and three walks. He hit a double and scored the winning run in the 11th.
Smith was sacrificed to third with one out, but the Jays intentionally walked Corey Dickerson and Kevin Kiermaier to load the bases. The plan seemed to work when Casey Lawrence struck out Evan Longoria for the second out of the inning, but he followed with a walk to Brad Miller to force in the winning run.
“That’s two in a row,” said manager Kevin Cash. “Two games that we’ve won and had a tough time finding ways to win. We found a way to win tonight. That was an outstanding pitching performance by Arch (Chris Archer) and their guy (Aaron Sanchez). It was fun to watch early on if you’re a fan of good pitching. That was electric stuff. Location, everything was going on. Two good lineups. Just excited that we were able to pull it off.”
Cash enjoyed watching Smith’s performance.
“Mallex’s spring was put on pause for an injury early on,” Cash said, “so we didn’t get to see him and then I think throughout spring, I think he was trying to feel his way a little bit. You can tell since he’s been here that it’s been much more the aggressive style of play. We are going to ride with it as he’s feeling it. Tremendous at-bats at the plate laying off tough pitches and putting himself in hitter’s counts every single at-bat.
Smith said his plan was simple: Get on base.
“I call that a blessed day right there,” Smith said. “You know that doesn’t happen every day so when you have days like this you gotta relish in them for the rest of the night. Just a good day progressively you know, taking steps forward and just building confidence in my own game. Building up some confidence in the staff here you know so that’s a very progressive day. It’s nice to have a day like today where I can showcase a lot of it. The only thing I didn’t do today was bunt. I know that’s the thing that everybody penciled me in as a bunter, but a great day.”
Jays’ manager John Gibbons admitted it was an unusual strategy.
“Normally, you don’t want to walk the bases loaded to get to Longoria, but the situation, you needed a force play with Smith running,” Gibbons said. “The chance of getting him on a tag play with the way he runs. He got the big out there, but then of course then walk which was the ballgame. I thought he handled himself well. I thought we pitched very well tonight. I thought Sanchez was great. We ran into our own nemesis Archer and when we took the lead, we had the chance to add on, which would have been big, but they answered right back. The guys are battling. Every game we are playing, other than last night, has been a tight game late, we’ve just come up short.”
Chris Archer pitched well for the Rays, allowing five hits and two runs in 7 2/3 innings. He struck out eight in a non-decision.
The Rays play the Blue Jays today at 1:10 p.m. Jake Odorizzi will pitch against Marco Estrada.