MLB

Homer-happy Blue Jays regain 2-game lead over Rays in AL wild-card race

George Springer homered twice, Alejandro Kirk and Teoscar Hernandez also went deep and the Toronto Blue Jays beat the Tampa Bay Rays 7-1 on Sunday to gain a four-game split in St. Petersburg, Fla.

Springer swats 2 of club's 4 long balls as Toronto gains 4-game split in Tampa

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. puts the home run jacket on Teoscar Hernandez after his two-run blast in the eighth-inning extended the Blue Jays' lead to 6-1 over the Rays in Tampa. Toronto won 7-1 on Sunday to gain a split in the four-game series. (Mike Carlson/Getty Images)

Tampa Bay's two-year reign as AL East champion is over.

George Springer homered twice, Alejandro Kirk and Teoscar Hernandez also went deep and the Toronto Blue Jays beat the Rays 7-1 on Sunday to gain a four-game split.

The New York Yankees hold a comfortable lead in the AL East, and Sunday's loss eliminated the third-place Rays from the division race, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Toronto (86-67) opened a two-game lead over Tampa Bay (84-69) for the top AL wild card with nine games left. Seattle (83-69) is 2 1/2 games back of the Blue Jays and a half-game behind the Rays after blowing a big lead in a 13-12 loss to Kansas City. Baltimore remains four games behind the Mariners for the third and final spot.

"I think we're kind of where we need to be," Blue Jays interim manager John Schneider said. "I think we've kind of continued to put ourselves in position if we do get into the postseason, we're in a good spot."

The Blue Jays return home for six games against the Yankees and Boston before heading to Baltimore for three.

The Rays close out the regular season with a nine-game trip to AL Central champion Cleveland, AL West champion Houston and Boston.

"We control our own destiny on this," Tampa Bay infielder Taylor Walls said. "Not winning today hurts a little bit, but at the same time we have enough games ahead of us if we play well enough, I'm pretty confident that we can be where we want to be."

Toronto allowed 20 runs in losing the first two games of the series, but limited Tampa Bay to a total of two runs in winning the final two.

"We showed that we can fight and not quit," Springer said. "We got down pretty quick to an extremely talented ballclub that's playing well. To get down and to split, it's huge."

Ross Stripling (9-4) permitted one run and six hits in five innings. Zach Pop, Adam Cimber, Trevor Richards and Yusei Kikuchi combined to give up one hit over four innings.

Rays all-star Shane McClanahan (12-7), pulled in the fifth inning of his previous start due to neck tightness, gave up four runs and six hits, including a career-high three homers, over five innings.

McClanahan said he is healthy, but struggled with command. This was his third start since spending 15 days on the injured list with a left shoulder impingement.

"I felt good. ... Just didn't have it today," McClanahan said. "I've got to do better. It's frustrating."

The left-hander is 2-4 with a 4.26 ERA in nine outings since the all-star break.

Springer had a two-run shot in the third and added a fifth-inning solo drive for his 23rd homer this season as the Blue Jays took a 4-1 lead. He finished with three hits in his 20th career multi-homer game — 19 in the leadoff spot. Only Mookie Betts (20) has more in major league history.

Kirk had a solo homer during the second, and Hernandez made it 6-1 with a two-run homer in the eighth off Garrett Cleavinger.

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. hit a ninth-inning RBI single.

Randy Arozarena pulled the Rays to 3-1 on a sacrifice fly in the third.

Disappointing turnout

Sunday's announced crowd was 16,394, giving the Rays a final home attendance for the season of 1,128,127. The total will be the third lowest in the majors. Tampa Bay drew 1,178,735 in 2019, the least year before two seasons with COVID attendance restrictions in place. The Rays have drawn under 1.3 million at home every year since 2015.

Numbers

Springer has three homers in 13 at-bats against McClanahan. … Rays shortstop Wander Franco extended his career-high hitting streak to 12 games with a third-inning single. … Tampa Bay first baseman Harold Ramirez had three hits.

Happy trails

Retiring Rays bullpen coach Stan Boroski and major league medical coordinator Paul Harker threw ceremonial first pitches. Boroski is in his 13th season with the team, while Harker joined the Rays for their inaugural season in 1998.

Trainer's room

Rays: Third baseman Yandy Diaz (left shoulder) was out of the lineup for the sixth straight game but could start Tuesday.

Up next

Blue Jays: Open a home series Monday night against the New York Yankees.

Rays: Corey Kluber (10-9) will pitch in Cleveland for first since leaving the team after the 2019 season. Kluber, who won the AL Cy Young Award with Cleveland in 2014 and 17, will face fellow right-hander Shane Bieber (12-8).

Glasnow expected to start Wednesday

Rays right-hander Tyler Glasnow is scheduled to rejoin the rotation Wednesday night at Cleveland after missing nearly 14 months because of Tommy John surgery.

The Rays' opening day starter last year hasn't pitched this season after undergoing the procedure on Aug. 4, 2021.

"I think we're pretty confident he'll be starting for us Wednesday," Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash said Sunday. "This is the first time he's thrown pain-free in quite some time, so he's encouraged by it."

The six-foot-eight right-hander went 5-2 with a 2.66 earned-run average in 14 starts last year and is a key addition as the Rays near a wild-card spot.

"Compared to the past, like, three years it feels way better … the week leading into starts and stuff," Glasnow said. "It's good to have an [ulnar collateral ligament], you know."

Cash said Glasnow would throw around 45 pitches in his initial outing, which should allow him to go two or three innings.

Kiermaier playing future unclear

Injured Tampa Bay centre-fielder Kevin Kiermaier had an eventful week during the Rays' final regular-season homestand.

He was the third person in the television booth for Wednesday night's game against Houston, and got a video tribute during Saturday night's game with Toronto.

The 32-year-old Kiermaier, in the final season of a six-year deal worth $53.5 million, faces an uncertain off-season following season-ending left hip surgery nearly two months ago. The Rays have a $13 million option for 2023, which they will likely decline in favor of a $2.5 million buyout.

Kiermaier said no when asked if he thought the video tribute felt like a goodbye.

"It was more of an appreciation to me," Kiermaier said before the Rays' regular-season home finale Sunday. "Being realistic, I don't know if that was my final Saturday game for me here in the regular season. A lot of unknowns. I don't know if I will be putting on this uniform and taking that field again."

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