Pinch-hitter Whit Merrifield drove in two runs with a seventh-inning double, George Springer added a two-run homer and the Toronto Blue Jays defeated the Tampa Bay Rays 7-2 Tuesday night to gain a doubleheader split between AL wild card contenders.
Toronto (80-62) remained a half-game ahead of the Rays (79-62) in a race for the three AL wild cards that also includes Seattle (79-61), which played later Tuesday.
The Blue Jays trailed 2-1 before rallying with a four-run seventh against left-hander Colin Poche (4-2). Pinch-hitter Santiago Espinal walked and advanced to third on two wild pitches. Pinch-hitter Danny Jansen drew a one-out walk and was replaced by pinch-runner Bradley Zimmer. Merrifield followed with a double down the third-base line.
“It was a big moment in a big game,” Merrifield said. “It’s nice to contribute, nice to do something positive.”
The double was Merrifield’s first with Toronto and his second extra-base hit in 27 matches with the Blue Jays.
Springer homered to reach 20 for the seventh time.
Poche permitted four runs and two hits in one-third of an inning.
“It hurts,” Poche said. “It was a long day. We fought really hard today and we had a good chance to come out of here with two wins, which would be big. It’s tough to kind of give that away.”
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Poche hadn’t allowed a run since Aug. 28 at Boston.
“It just kind of got away from him,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “He’s been on a pretty good run for us.”
Teoscar Hernández hit an RBI double off Kevin Herget in the eighth and scored on Matt Chapman’s sacrifice fly. Herget was making his major league debut.
Anthony Bass (4-3) got one out for the win. Adam Cimber retired two batters in the eighth and Jordan Romano got pinch-hitter Yandy Díaz to ground into a forceout with runners at the corners.
Once Toronto stretched its lead to five, Zach Pop wrapped it up in the ninth.
After being scratched from the opener because of a stomach illness, Toronto’s Alek Manoah allowed two runs and five hits over 6 2/3 innings in the nightcap. He struck out five and walked two, leaving to a standing ovation.
“I woke up in the middle of the night feeling terrible,” Manoah said. “I actually woke up thinking it was a nightmare and then I couldn’t breathe, chest was tight. Everything just didn’t feel too well.”
Interim manager John Schneider stated it was “a great effort” by Manoah.
“He’s firmly cemented himself as one of the best pitchers in the league, in the game,” Schneider said. “What he did tonight was more of the same.”
After staying home to get some extra sleep, Manoah received fluids through an IV after arriving at the ballpark midway through Game 1, and was declared fit to pitch by the team medical staff.
“I kind of have the mentality that my job is not to feel good, my job is to just go out there and compete,” Manoah said.
Ji-Man Choi opened the scoring with a leadoff home run in the third inning, his 10th. Choi’s second-deck drive snapped Tampa Bay’s six-game homerless streak.
Toronto tied it in the sixth when Vladimir Guerrero Jr. doubled and scored on Alejandro Kirk’s swinging bunt.
Jonathan Aranda restored Tampa Bay’s lead when he connected on an 0-1 pitch from Manoah to start the seventh. It was the first homer of Aranda’s career.
Rays right-hander Yonny Chirinos was added as the 29th man for the doubleheader and started the second game allowing three hits in four-plus shutout innings. Chirinos left after hitting Chapman with a pitch starting the fifth.
In the opener, Tampa Bay left-hander Jeffrey Springs (8-4) pitched six shutout innings to win for the fifth time in six decisions, Randy Arozarena drove in two runs and Díaz had three hits and scored twice as the Rays won 4-2 to snap a three-game losing streak.
With Manoah unavailable, the Blue Jays opened Game 1 with right-hander Julian Merryweather (0-3) before turning to right-hander Mitch White, Toronto’s 29th man. White pitched six innings before being returned to Triple-A Buffalo.
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