The mood remained upbeat in the Toronto Blue Jays’ clubhouse on Saturday despite a missed opportunity to clinch a playoff spot.
It helped that Toronto was still in charge of its playoff destiny. But a 7-5 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays has certainly increased the pressure with one day left in the regular season.
The worries subsided when the Texas Rangers beat the Seattle Mariners 6-1 later Saturday to ensure the Jays would be in the playoffs.
“It’s hectic, it’s stressful and all that kind of stuff, but this is why you play,” said Blue Jays manager John Schneider. “This is why you play 162 (games). We’re actually doing it. We’re playing 162 for a reason. It’s exciting, it’s up and down, back and forth, all that kind of stuff.
Tampa Bay’s Taylor Walls hit a two-run single off Jordan Hicks in the 10th inning to silence the sellout crowd of 42,097 at Rogers Centre. The Rays added another run on Junior Caminero’s infield single.
Chris Devenski (6-4) gave up an RBI double to Bo Bichette in the bottom half before getting Kevin Kiermaier on a groundout as Toronto’s magic number to clinch remained at one.
“We’re kind of just going out there and trying to cause some chaos right now,” said Rays right-fielder Josh Lowe. “It’s pretty fun.”
Harold Ramirez homered for the Rays (98-63), who outhit Toronto 14-7.
Daulton Varsho homered and drove in three runs for the Blue Jays. Starter Hyun Jin Ryu lasted a season-low three innings.
“I think they were really focused on trying to get contact and because of that they were able to get some hard contact at times,” Ryu said via an interpreter. “That probably happened because my command wasn’t there.”
The Blue Jays will open a best-of-three playoff series on Tuesday at Minnesota or Tampa Bay.
The Rays, meanwhile, are in tune-up mode after securing the first of three American League wild-card spots earlier in the week.
Tampa Bay gave opener Shawn Armstrong the start and six relievers followed him on a bullpen day.
“The priority is us feeling good about ourselves,” said Rays manager Kevin Cash.
The East Division champion Baltimore Orioles have secured the top seed in the AL and the Central champion Minnesota Twins will be seeded third.
Randy Arozarena just missed a home run with a one-out double in the first inning. Isaac Paredes drove him in to open the scoring.
Ryu wasn’t sharp but managed to avoid giving up a big inning. Tampa Bay added another run in the third when Lowe doubled to bring home Ramirez.
Varsho answered with a no-doubt solo shot. His 20th homer of the season landed in the 200 level just inside the right-field foul screen.
He drove in two more runs in Toronto’s three-run fourth inning.
Trevor Richards gave up a two-run homer to Ramirez in the fifth that tied the game.
The Rays threatened in the sixth with runners on the corners but Erik Swanson got Arozarena to hit into a double-play.
Yimi Garcia worked a clean seventh inning for Toronto.
Jordan Romano of Markham, Ont., — normally used in a closing role — came on in the eighth instead. He gave up a two-out double before getting Walls on a flyout.
Hicks (3-9) also pitched the ninth inning. George Springer hit a two-out double in the bottom half but was stranded when Cavan Biggio lined out.
The Blue Jays have been swept in the wild-card round in two of the last three years. Toronto missed the playoffs in 2021.
The Blue Jays’ last post-season victory came in 2016 when they reached the American League Championship Series for a second straight year.
Toronto won World Series titles in 1992 and 1993.
The Blue Jays will get a chance to win a season series over the Rays for the first time since 2017 with a victory on Sunday.
The teams have split 12 head-to-head meetings so far. The Blue Jays had a 10-9 mark against the Rays six years ago.
The Rays have yet to confirm their starter for Sunday afternoon.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 30, 2023.
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Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press