As they try to recover from a tough start, the stakes sure feel high to the Toronto Blue Jays.
Justin Smoak had three hits, including a two-run homer, and the Blue Jays beat the Tampa Bay Rays 4-1 Saturday to end a three-game losing streak.
Smoak went 3 for 3 and scored twice as Toronto improved to 7-17.
“Every win, we need,” Smoak said.
It was Smoak’s fifth multihit game of the season. He raised his average to .274.
“We’re counting on him and he’s off to a good start,” manager John Gibbons said.
Francisco Liriano (2-2) allowed one run and four hits in five-plus innings. He walked four and struck out six.
“We’re in April but every game we play feels like it’s the playoffs right now,” Liriano said.
Last-place Toronto got swept in a doubleheader at St. Louis on Thursday, then lost a late lead in the series opener against the Rays on Friday.
“We think good things are on their way, we really do,” Gibbons said. “But today was a huge game.”
Liriano was replaced by Joe Biagini after a walk and an error put Rays at first and second with none out in the sixth. Tim Beckham struck out trying to bunt, pinch hitter Brad Miller went down swinging and pinch hitter Logan Morrison grounded out.
“Those are the guys we want at the plate when the game is on the line,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said.
Biagini worked two innings, Joe Smith pitched the eighth and Roberto Osuna finished for his second save.
Osuna had acknowledged his confidence was shaken after blowing saves in three of his previous five appearances, but got back on track by relying more on his four-seam fastball, a suggestion made by catcher Russell Martin.
“A lot more confidence today,” Osuna said. “Hopefully I can keep pitching like this.”
Matt Andriese (1-1) gave up four runs in seven innings.
Rays outfielder Steven Souza left the game in the seventh after being hit on the back of the left hand by a pitch from Biagini. X-rays were negative and Souza is day-to-day.
Toronto took a 1-0 lead in the first when Jose Bautista scored from second on a throwing error by Beckham from shortstop. The inning ended one batter later when Kendrys Morales tried to score from second on Smoak’s single, but was thrown out by center fielder Kevin Kiermaier.
Beckham slid around Martin’s tag to score the tying run in the second, coming home on Jesus Sucre‘s single to right. Plate umpire Sam Holbrook initially ruled Beckham out, but the call was overturned following a replay review.
The Blue Jays reclaimed their lead in the fourth on Martin’s RBI double, then widened their edge in the seventh when Smoak connected off Andriese. The homer was Smoak’s fourth.
“It’s kind of a tough one to swallow with that two-run home run,” Andriese said. “I was trying to keep us within striking distance but Smoak put a good swing on a good pitch.”
END OF THE LINE
Blue Jays leadoff batter Kevin Pillar went 0 for 4, failing to reach base for the first time in 16 games.
Cash said Beckham was bunting on his own when he fouled-off a two-strike attempt and struck out in the sixth.
ONE AND DONE
Tampa Bay was held to one run or less for the fifth time.
Rays: RHP Chris Archer (2-1, 3.94) has 20 career starts against Toronto, more than any other opponent. He’s 6-4 with a 3.17 ERA in those outings.
Blue Jays: RHP Aaron Sanchez (blister) is expected come off the 10-day DL and start Sunday’s series finale. Sanchez (0-0, 4.38) allowed five runs and seven hits in 5 1/3 innings in his previous start, April 14 against Baltimore. Toronto optioned LHP Matt Dermody to Triple-A following Saturday’s game to open a spot for Sanchez.
Republished with permission from the Associated Press.