National Post (Latest Edition)
Elite Rays pitching puts Jays on brink
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
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.