Toronto Blue Jays pitcher J.A. Happ capped a challenging season with one of his best efforts of the year.
It was a performance that leaves him feeling good heading into the off-season. It also significantly raised the pressure on the Tampa Bay Rays in their pursuit of an American League wild-card spot.
Happ retired 11 batters in a row at one point in Toronto's 7-2 victory over the Rays on Saturday afternoon at Rogers Centre. He allowed one earned run and five hits over 7 1/3 innings.
"Overall it's a great way to finish for him," said Blue Jays manager John Gibbons. "He can go into the off-season feeling confident and healthy."
Ryan Goins and Kevin Pillar hit two-run homers in Toronto's four-run fifth inning. First baseman Ryan Langerhans scored twice and had two of the Blue Jays' 12 hits.
The Rays' loss made things even tighter in the American League wild-card race. Tampa Bay and Texas were even at 90-71 after the Rangers beat the Los Angeles Angels 7-4 earlier in the day.
The Cleveland Indians (90-70) played the Minnesota Twins later Saturday. With a win, the Indians would move one game ahead of the Rays and Rangers while a loss would drop them into a three-way tie heading into the final day.
"We've been here before, we've been in these moments," said Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon. "We never do things seemingly easily so let's just play tomorrow and see what happens."
Todd Redmond (4-2) will get the start Sunday as the Blue Jays go for the three-game sweep.
"We'd like to come back and get one more win tomorrow," Gibbons said. "That's what it's all about. We'd rather be in their position, no doubt about that. But we'll come out tomorrow and play. Hopefully Redmond has a good one and he can finish on a good note and we'll see what happens.
"It's good for baseball, I know that."
Matt Moore (16-4) will get the pressure-packed starting assignment for the Rays.
"It's resiliency to infinity," Maddon said. "You have to come out and be yourselves and go out and play."
Happ finds form
Happ missed three months of action this season after suffering a fractured skull and sprained knee when he was hit in the head by a liner on May 7. He has found his form of late after making a minor change to his delivery.
"I've been working and battling and feeling like I was close," Happ said. "I feel like finally the last several starts I've kind of been putting it together. It feels good to end on a good note, for sure."
Happ settled down after a choppy opening frame.
Tampa Bay's Ben Zobrist opened the game with a double off the centre-field wall. Sean Rodriguez moved him to third with a sacrifice fly and Zobrist scored on a Wil Myers single.
Toronto (74-87) put runners on the corners in the bottom half of the inning but Anthony Gose grounded into a force out to end the threat.
The Blue Jays looked sloppy in the second inning. James Loney hit a sky-high pop fly that dropped to the turf beside the mound.
The crowd of 33,232 groaned at the miscue, which may have been caused by the bright afternoon sunshine and swirling wind. Brett Lawrie of Langley, B.C., helped lift the Toronto fans' spirits later in the frame with a nice over-the-shoulder catch in foul territory for the third out.
Jose Reyes reached on an infield single in the third inning and moved to third on a hit-and-run play as Lawrie drove the ball into right field. Designated hitter Adam Lind followed with an RBI single that tied the game.
With the stakes high for Tampa Bay, Maddon was quick with the hook. He pulled starter Chris Archer with one out in the frame and runners on the corners.
Reliever Alex Torres (4-2) got Gose to hit into a fielder's choice and then struck out Goins with two runners in scoring position to keep the game tied.
Langerhans opened the bottom of the fourth with a nice bunt down the third-base line and moved to second on an infield single by Pillar. Reyes drove a ball to deep left field that Rodriguez tracked down at the warning track for the second out.
That brought Maddon out for another pitching change, with right-hander Jamey Wright getting the nod.
Wright then walked Lawrie to load the bases and Lind stroked a single down the left-field line to score a pair. Moises Sierra struck out to end the rally.
In the fifth, Goins took a 3-2 pitch just over the wall in right field for his second homer of the season. Pillar's drive came on a 2-2 pitch from Brandon Gomes and barely cleared the wall in left field for his third homer of the year.
Happ allowed one walk and had four strikeouts. Archer, meanwhile, allowed one earned run, five hits and a walk with four strikeouts.
Toronto reliever Aaron Loup recorded two outs in the eighth inning. Dustin McGowan gave up a run in the ninth before striking out former Blue Jays shortstop Yunel Escobar to end the game.