TORONTO (AP)Bo Bichette launched a go-ahead, two-run homer in the eighth inning after being hit by a high fastball in his previous at-bat, leading the Toronto Blue Jays to a testy, 3-2 win over the Tampa Bay Rays in a showdown between AL wild-card contenders Monday night.
Toronto tied idle Seattle atop the standings for the three wild-card spots. Tampa Bay is a half-game behind.
Bichette, chosen the AL Player of the Week before the game after batting .500 (16 for 32) with five home runs and 13 RBIs, connected off Jason Adam (2-3) for his 24th homer.
”I’m definitely focused,” Bichette said. ”I think the time of the year helps. A lot of big games and we need all of them.”
Bichette went 2 for 3 and drove in all three Toronto runs.
”Bo thrives on competition and he thrives on being great, and I think he understands how well he’s going right now,” interim Blue Jays manager John Schneider said.
In the sixth, Bichette slammed his bat in anger after being hit near his right wrist by a 97 mph fastball from Rays reliever Javy Guerra. The ball ricocheted past Bichette’s face as he attempted to get out of the way.
”It just scared me,” Bichette said, joking that ”I just saw my life flash before my eyes” as the ball sailed at his head.
After Bichette was hit, Toronto’s Jose Berrios hit Francisco Mejia with his second pitch of the seventh. While the umpires huddled before issuing warnings, Schneider and Blue Jays pitching coach Pete Walker were seen yelling back and forth with Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash and pitching coach Kyle Snyder.
”Nothing really,” Cash said of the exchange. ”You’ve got two teams that are playing for a lot, competitive, and tensions can get high.”
Toronto’s Yimi Gacia was not ejected after he hit Randy Arozarena on the hand with a 2-0 pitch with two out in the eighth.
Tim Mayza (7-0) got one out for the win and Jordan Romano closed it out in the ninth for his 33rd save in 37 chances.
Tampa Bay has scored 14 total runs in its past five games, losing three straight for the first time since Aug. 9-12.
”We’ve got to start getting some things going offensively,” Cash said.
The Rays used three straight singles to open the scoring against Berrios in the second, with Jonathan Arranda’s one-out hit driving in David Peralta from second base.
Berrios allowed one earned run and six hits in 6 1/3 innings.
”We’re looking for more of the same from Jose going forward,” Schneider said.
Making his first appearance with the Rays and the second of his big league career, right-hander Cooper Criswell retired the first nine batters he faced, striking out four, before running into trouble in the fourth.
George Springer led off with a walk, advanced on Vladimir Guerrero Jr’.s single and scored the tying run on Bichette’s single. Criswell left one out later, and JT Chargois came on and got Teoscar Hernandez to ground into a double play.
Tampa Bay reclaimed the lead in the sixth. Arozarena singled, broke for second on a ball four pitch to Peralta and advanced to third on an errant throw by catcher Danny Jansen, and scored on Manuel Margot’s grounder.
Rays: SS Wander Franco (rest) was held out of the starting lineup but grounded out in a pinch-hit appearance in the eighth. Franco returned Friday after missing two months because of a wrist injury and played all three games of a weekend series against the Yankees.
Rays: Tampa Bay put unvaccinated LHP Brooks Raley on the restricted list and optioned RHPs Calvin Faucher and Luis Patino to Triple-A Durham. The Rays added Cooper as a substitute player and selected RHPs Kevin Herget and Guerra from Triple-A. LHP Brendan McKay (elbow) was transferred from the 15-day injured list to the 60-day IL.
Toronto is 29-17 in one-run games and has won its past seven one-run decisions
Guerrero lost his bat on a strike three swing in the first, sending it high into the air. The bat bounced off the protective netting above Toronto’s third base dugout and dropped into the camera bay where a team staffer caught it.
Rays LHP Jeffrey Springs (7-4, 2.54 ERA) is expected to start the first game of Tuesday’s doubleheader against Blue Jays RHP Alek Manoah (14-7, 2.42). Neither team has named a starter for Game 2 but Toronto is expected to add RHP Mitch White (1-6, 5.09 ERA) from Triple-A Buffalo to pitch the nightcap, possibly behind an opener.
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