Tampa Bay’s Kevin Kiermaier has a flair for the dramatic and a belief in his Tampa Bay Rays teammates.
Pinch hitting for Mike Brosseau, Kiermaier stroked a one-out walk-off single to left field on the first pitch he saw to beat the visiting Toronto Blue Jays, 2-1, in 10 innings on Saturday night.
The teams have split the first two contests of the four-game series, both requiring an extra frame to decide each meeting. Toronto won 6-5 in 10 innings Friday in the opener before Kiermaier’s heroics in the second game.
The American League East foes battle for the ninth time this season on Sunday afternoon at Tropicana Field.
Kiermaier’s walk-off was the third of his career and second this season. He beat Toronto in the 10th inning on July 26 in the season’s third game by lacing a triple in a 6-5 win.
The Rays won for the third time in five extra-inning games with Saturday’s triumph.
Kiermaier, 30, said he practiced swinging in the dugout throughout the game.
“I’m hyper and can’t sit still,” he said.
He added that he and his teammates have a realistic winning attitude.
“We’re just having so much fun,” the lefty-hitting Kiermaier said. “We are truly coming to the field each and every day expecting to win. (We) have realistic beliefs in doing that. A lot of teams can say that and not really mean it, but we mean it. The camaraderie among us is great.”
Tampa Bay improved to 5-3 against the Blue Jays and 16-8 versus the AL East. They are also 12-2 over their last 14 games and 6-3 in one-run games.
Unheralded 2017 fifth-round draft pick Josh Fleming, 24, from Division III Webster University in St. Louis, will make his big league debut Sunday. Fleming spent last year in Double-A Montgomery and Triple-A Durham, compiling a combined 12-7 record with a 3.57 ERA.
Rays third baseman Yandy Diaz took a ball off the cheek in batting practice Saturday and was scratched from the lineup. Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash said he felt his team got “lucky” that it was a minor incident.
The club added right-handed reliever Chaz Roe (2-0, 2.89) to its ever-growing injured list. The 33-year-old Roe, who has one save, has elbow soreness and became the eighth pitcher sidelined. Lefty Sean Gilmartin was added to the roster.
Cash added that No. 1 starter Charlie Morton and reliever Oliver Drake, also down with injuries, have improved but will not be available over the next few days.
Toronto manager Charlie Montoyo said this version of the Rays is more dangerous than their teams of the past.
“They’re deep,” the second-year Blue Jays skipper said before the final four regular-season meetings between the clubs opened. “Deep in the bullpen. Deep in the rotation. Deep on the bench. They can match up with anybody. This year, they’ve got more hitting, so they’re a complete team.”
The Blue Jays saw their six-game winning streak end Saturday, and they fell to 7-7 against the division and 3-5 in extra-inning games.
Trent Thornton (0-0, 13.50) will have a quick turnaround after a 32-pitch start over two-thirds of an inning against Philadelphia on Thursday in a first inning that saw the Phillies score seven runs – six charged to Thornton.
The right-hander is 1-1 with a 6.43 ERA in five career starts against the Rays.
–Field Level Media