ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays will look to play spoiler over the final month of the season, and they certainly lived up to that billing in their series opener vs. Toronto.
Tampa Bay quickly reminded the Blue Jays that they have never fared too well in the Sunshine State, and even a last-place team should not be overlooked. Logan Morrison, Luke Maile and Brad Miller each homered as the Rays came out on top, 8-3, Friday night at Tropicana Field.
"Offensively, we did a good job," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "We get down, 2-0, come back to tie it up. Some big home runs. We've been hitting some home runs lately. It's been nice to see. It led us to a win."
The loss dropped the Blue Jays' lead atop the American League East to one game following the Red Sox's win over the A's. Baltimore closed to within three games after beating the Yankees.
Right-hander Alex Cobb picked up the no-decision in his first appearance since Sept. 28, 2014. Cobb returned from Tommy John surgery and allowed two runs on four hits and one walk while striking out seven over five innings. The win went to right-hander Danny Farquhar, who tossed a scoreless inning of relief after Cobb left the game.
Toronto's Opening Day starter Marcus Stroman took the loss after he surrendered four runs (three earned) on five hits and two walks over six innings. The Blue Jays were still in the game and trailed by just two runs when Stroman departed, but Francisco Liriano and Ryan Tepera allowed four runs in the seventh as the Rays broke things open.
"It's tough, at the end of the day I just didn't keep my team in it to get a win," Stroman said. "You can talk about ground balls and all of that, but at the end of the day I just didn't do my job. … I feel great, my stuff feels as strong as it has been all year. It's just frustrating not getting the results I want to get."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Corn on the Cobb: Pitching for the first time in 705 days, Cobb put together a positive performance. He struggled in his first inning after returning from Tommy John surgery, allowing two runs. But he bounced back to throw five innings and collect seven strikeouts. He also threw just 84 pitches. Cobb retired the last 10 batters he faced.
"I was happy in the fact that I felt back to that competitive nature on the mound," Cobb said. "It wasn't being cautious. I wasn't thinking about mechanics. I wasn't thinking injury possibilities. I was just out there and wanted to get outs." More >
Starting early: Toronto jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first thanks to a pair of doubles by Josh Donaldson and Edwin Encarnacion. Donaldson hit a soaring fly ball to center field that the umpires ruled bounced off the B-ring catwalk, which according to the Tropicana Field ground rules meant it was still in play. The umpires agreed to a crew chief review, but the replays proved inconclusive and Donaldson remained at second. That didn't matter in the end as Encarnacion followed with an RBI double and later scored from third on an single by Russell Martin.
"We put two runs on the board in the first and then didn't scratch one across until late," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "We had some chances. I thought Stroman was really good. We booted one ball and then he gives up the home run to Morrison late. That was pretty much the game."
Big-time blast from LoMo: Michael Saunders didn't even make an attempt to run after Morrison's sixth-inning shot. The two-run home run traveled 444 feet, per Statcast™ and gave the Rays a 4-2 lead. It was his second consecutive game with a home run. He hadn't homered since July 5 before that, when he also hit homers on consecutive days.
Rocky start in relief: Liriano made his first appearance out of the bullpen since Sept. 11, 2012, and his lack of experience in that role became apparent pretty quickly. Liriano surrendered a home run to the first batter he faced -- Maile -- and two batters later allowed an RBI triple off the bat of Kevin Kiermaier. Liriano did not record an out and the Rays went on to score four runs in the inning as Miller later added his 26th homer of the year with a two-run shot off Tepera.
"I don't think you ever judge anybody on one outing," Gibbons said. "I don't think that's fair to anybody -- unless it's me, of course. He's a priority guy. He's a guy we're going to need so we have to keep him working too."
"Just a first-pitch sinker that I left a little up. Kind of ambushed it, but he did a good job putting a barrel on it. I probably should have went offspeed in that situation." -- Stroman, on the home run by Morrison
"It's the same as every other game, really. The only difference is really when guys get on, the game does speed up on you. But it was fun. It was pretty nerve-wracking out there, but happy to get one out and hopefully that's going to be one of many." -- Rays knuckleballer Eddie Gamboa, on making his MLB debut at age 31More >
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Donaldson's double in the first inning marked the 13th time this year a player has hit a ball off the B-ring of the catwalk at Tropicana Field. That tied a record for the most in one season, as it was also hit 13 times in 2000 and '01. It was the second time this season Donaldson hit a ball off the catwalk, as he became the first visitor to do that since Alex Rodriguez in 2008.
The Blue Jays snapped a streak of seven games with at least one home run in the loss. Toronto had 16 homers over that seven-game span.
WHAT'S NEXT Blue Jays: Right-hander Marco Estrada (8-6, 3.37 ERA) will take the mound when the Blue Jays continue their three-game series against the Rays on Saturday evening, with first pitch scheduled for 6:10 p.m. ET. Estrada will be pitching on normal rest, and in those situations he has a 1.96 ERA -- compared to a 3.97 ERA on five days' rest and a 5.14 ERA on six days or more.
Rays: Blake Snell (4-7, 3.56 ERA) will take the hill opposite Estrada on Saturday. Snell hasn't pitched a full six innings since July 24 in Oakland. His last outing against the Blue Jays on Aug. 10 was the shortest of his career, when he lasted just 1 2/3 innings and allowed five runs (two earned) in a losing effort on the road. He'll have a chance to make up for that when he faces them at home.