National Post (Latest Edition)

Elite Rays pitch­ing puts Jays on brink

- Rob Lon­g­ley

Be­fore the big­gest out­ing of his man­age­rial ca­reer on Tues­day evening, Blue Jays man­ager Char­lie Mon­toyo talked about his ap­proach to the game that has been his life’s work.

“I’m an old-school guy but I’m open- minded,” Mon­toyo said prior to a 3-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays at Trop­i­cana Field in the opener of a first-round best-of-three series.

Old school went out the win­dow in a move that will be de­bated but when seen to its fruition wasn’t nearly as con­tro­ver­sial as it seemed at the time.

In fact, the scripted pitch­ing blue­print al­most worked to per­fec­tion for the young Jays, who ran into a red- hot Blake Snell on the bump for the Rays and couldn’t re­cover.

Starter Matt Shoe­maker — the vet­eran right-han­der was solid in three in­nings of twohit shutout ball — got the hook as Mon­toyo stuck with his plan to go to Rob­bie Ray.

Shoe­maker ques­tioned the move after the game and fans were in an up­roar soon after when Ray promptly al­lowed a lead­off triple to the corner from Randy Arozarena. Two bat­ters later, that would turn into a run fol­low­ing a wild pitch from Ray that eluded catcher Danny Jansen.

As much as the de­ci­sion will be sav­aged by hard-core an­a­lyt­ics haters, it very nearly paid off.

Ray didn’t al­low another run through his three in­nings of work and there wouldn’t be a man­ager in the world who wouldn’t have taken six in­nings against the top- seeded Rays with just one earned run al­lowed.

“No­body’s ever happy (when they get taken out) but he al­ready knew what the plan was,” Mon­toyo said. “I felt so good about it. It worked out just how we mapped it out. In the sixth in­ning, I said, ‘ Man, we’ve got a chance.’ We just didn’t hit to­day.”

Mon­toyo is right, of course. The fickle world of fan­dom will never see it that way, even if Ray re­tired the fi­nal eight bat­ters he faced and struck out five.

The game was lost when the Jays ven­tured into the bat­ter’s box. Toronto hit­ters scored just one run on its five scat­tered hits and struck out 12 times. Game 2’s first pitch is at 4 p.m. Wednes­day.

“I know it’s the big­gest stage and a lot of our guys haven’t played in the play­offs, but I think we learn from this,” Jays third base­man Ca­van Big­gio said. “The big­gest thing is not to press, not to panic. We’ve got a great team, a great group of guys. Go out and do what we do.”

The big­gest dam­age from the Rays was in­flicted by Snell, who pro­vided nine of the strike­outs and al­lowed just one hit in 5 2/ 3 in­nings of work. The Jays were chas­ing out of the zone — an ail­ment that af­flicted them at times dur­ing the sea­son — but credit the for­mer Cy Young Award win­ner for some of that swing and miss.

“Blake was just out­stand­ing for us,” Rays man­ager Kevin Cash said. “We weren’t able to sep­a­rate the game be­cause their guys pitched really, really well. The good thing for us is we had Blake go­ing and he was lights out.”

Shoe­maker was none too pleased with get­ting the hook and ex­pressed a dif­fer­ent ver­sion of the pre­de­ter­mined game plan af­ter­wards. The pitcher said he thought go­ing four or five in­nings was pos­si­ble. The man­ager said two in­nings was a pos­si­bil­ity, but Shoe­maker pitched the third be­cause he was so sharp.

“At first I was maybe a lit­tle sur­prised,” Shoe­maker said “It is what it is and I don’t make those de­ci­sions. To be com­pletely hon­est, I didn’t think it was go­ing to be after the third.”

After Ray’s night was done, the Rays got some in­sur­ance off of the next Jays pitcher, A. J. Cole, who al­lowed a two- run homer to Manuel Mar­got in the sev­enth.

The Jays’ lone run came in the eighth in­ning when Rowdy Tellez, who was ac­ti­vated ear­lier in the day after miss­ing 17 games with a knee in­jury, sin­gled as a pinch-hit­ter. Tellez scored after a Ca­van Big­gio dou­ble and a Bo Bichette sac­ri­fice fly.

In a game plan that ap­peared to have been mapped out and locked in well be­fore the con­test be­gan, the Jays pitch­ers ac­tu­ally de­liv­ered. But with 11 strike­outs from the bat­ting order against an ul­tra-tough and hard- throw­ing Rays pitch­ing staff, it was never go­ing to mat­ter.

And even with that be­ing the case, the Jays had the ty­ing run at the plate with one out in the top of the ninth in the form of Teoscar Her­nan­dez

GAME ON

Jays left a pair on the bases in the sev­enth after Vlad Guer­rero Jr. was hit by a pitch and Lour­des Gur­riel Jr. sin­gled. That would- be rally ended after an in­field pop- up to Teoscar Her­nan­dez and a line drive out to se­cond by Joe Panik, who was pinch- hit­ting for Jonathan Vil­lar ... The only hit Snell al­lowed was a lead­off sin­gle to Jays des­ig­nated hit­ter Ale­jan­dro Kirk in the sixth ... Jays lead­off hit­ter Ca­van Big­gio was the big­gest strike­out vic­tim of Snell’s go­ing down swing­ing on three oc­ca­sions ... Ray’s 60 pitches were a Jays post- sea­son record for a re­liever … With the loss, the Jays fell to 31- 31 all time in the post sea­son.

 ?? Jonathan Dyer / USA TO­DAY Sports ?? Tampa Bay’s Joey Wen­dle scoots back to first base as Toronto’s Vladimir Guer­rero Jr. tracks the pick­off at­tempt.
Jonathan Dyer / USA TO­DAY Sports Tampa Bay’s Joey Wen­dle scoots back to first base as Toronto’s Vladimir Guer­rero Jr. tracks the pick­off at­tempt.

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