Happ first to 16 wins as first-place Jays rout Rays
By Alykhan Ravjiani and Bill Chastain
TORONTO -- The Rays had no trouble scoring at Rogers Centre this season -- until they ran into the Major League leader in wins on Wednesday.
J.A. Happ threw six scoreless frames and became the first pitcher to reach 16 victories in 2016, while Troy Tulowitzki led the offense with a three-run home run and drove in a season-high five runs in Toronto's 7-0 victory over Tampa Bay, which pushed the Blue Jays into sole possession of first place in the American League East, one game ahead of the Orioles, who lost late Wednesday night.
The Rays entered with 45 runs scored in five games in Toronto this year, but they could only muster four hits against Happ. The veteran left-hander recorded his AL-best 12th start with six-plus innings and one or no earned runs allowed, and he struck out seven batters along the way.
"That sounds like Cy Young [Award] stuff," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said about Happ's consistency. "He's reliable and you can count on him. He's going to get roughed up now and then; it hasn't really happened this year. He's a new guy. He gets ground balls now -- that bails him out of some innings, and he still has the ability to get strikeouts."
Tulowitzki's first-inning home run snapped a franchise record of 17 straight solo shots by the Blue Jays, and it opened the floodgates for five runs in the first two innings. The veteran shortstop later added a bases-loaded walk and an RBI single, providing more than enough support for Happ and Co. to secure the series victory.
Rays starter Blake Snell entered Wednesday's game with five consecutive outings of two earned runs or fewer, but he struggled with the Blue Jays' right-handed-dominant lineup. The rookie left-hander lasted a season-low 1 2/3 innings, allowing five runs on five hits while walking a season-high-tying four batters.
"Maybe I was too excited," Snell said. "I felt like I was around the zone a lot. Like I was doing good in that sense. Got behind a lot. ... Same time, two innings [68 pitches]. I'm definitely going to learn from it and I'm going to get better. You're going to have those games. It's going to make me a lot better."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Tulo time: Blue Jays batters missed plenty of opportunities in Tuesday's loss, but Tulowitzki made sure that would not be the case on Wednesday. According to Statcast™, Tulowitzki's 19th home run of the season traveled a projected 351 feet from home plate and left the bat at 103 mph.
"I don't really focus on myself since I got here," Tulowitzki said. "It's all about winning games. Obviously you want to do good for yourself, because it's going to help your team win games, but the bottom line is it's all about wins and losses." More >
Positive appearance:Dylan Floro entered the game in the midst of a funk, having allowed runs in six of his 10 career appearances, including four of his previous five appearances. But he came out breathing fire when he took over for Snell with two outs in the second. The right-hander proceeded to allow no runs on one hit while striking out four in 2 1/3 innings.
"Dylan did a nice job of coming in and attacking the strike zone," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "It's very simple to say those things after the fact. But his stuff plays when he's in the zone. Now when you're falling behind 3-1, 2-0, that's when a lot of these big boys can take advantage of you."
Crisis averted: The Blue Jays entered having lost all three of Happ's starts against the Rays this season, and Tampa Bay looked poised to break through once again in the first inning. After back-to-back singles to lead off the game, Happ worked through the middle of the Rays' lineup, and he even showed off his fielding prowess by cutting down Logan Forsythe at the plate.
"That could have been the turning point, for sure," Happ said. "And then in the bottom there, Tulo gets the big hit and the lead. That's huge. I was trying to keep us in front, and that was a big point in the game early."
Snell's early hook: Most everything that could have gone wrong did for Snell. In the first inning, Steven Souza Jr. dropped a ball in foul territory that would have been the first out. Given new life, Josh Donaldson singled to right. Two outs later, Tulowitzki hit his three-run homer. Snell continued to struggle in the second, allowing an RBI single to Devon Travis, balking, and walking in a run with his fourth free pass. Cash then gave Snell the early hook.
"He could have kept pitching, but I think the smart thing to do, given his workload, 30 pitches, then 35 or whatever it got to," Cash said. "That was enough." More >
"I dropped it. ... I mean, I had to run a long way. But the ball's got to be caught." -- Souza, on his first-inning error
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Melvin Upton Jr.'s three stolen bases are the most by a Blue Jay since Jose Reyes stole three on July 11, 2015, against the Royals.
The Rays are 12-13 since the All-Star break, despite outscoring their opponents by 30 runs (110-80).
WHAT'S NEXT Rays: Tampa Bay begins a three-game series in the Bronx on Friday night, which will be a memorable occasion marked by the fact that Alex Rodriguez has announced this will be his last game. Chris Archer (6-15, 4.26) will start the 7:05 p.m. ET series opener. Archer is 5-3 with a 2.13 ERA in 11 career starts against the Yankees, but he's lost his last three starts against them.
Blue Jays: After an off-day Thursday, left-hander Francisco Liriano (6-11, 5.34) will get the ball in the opener of a three-game series against the Astros on Friday at 7:07 p.m. ET. The 32-year-old went six innings and allowed three runs (two earned) in his Blue Jays debut against the Royals his last time out.