ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Wander Franco had three RBIs, Jonathan Aranda homered and the Tampa Bay Rays beat the Toronto Blue Jays 10-5 Thursday night in the opener of a big series of four games between playoff contenders.
Randy Arozarena had three hits and two RBIs for the Rays, who were coming off a three-game streak in which they were swept by Houston and scored just twice.
“Baseball is weird. I saw a score tonight that was a little different. Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash said. “They’re doing a good job of rinsing it, getting to the next day, prepare to work, improve and find a way to win.”
Tampa Bay (83-67) pulled out a game away from Toronto (84-66) for first place in the AL wild card standings. Seattle (82-67) is third, four games ahead of Baltimore.
Whit Merrifield homered twice for Toronto, and Teoscar Hernández also went deep. José Berríos (11-6) was scored for six runs and seven hits in two innings.
“It was just a little weird getting ahead and not pulling the guys away,” Blue Jays interim manager John Schneider said of Berríos, who threw 74 pitches.
Toronto has lost three of four after winning 13 of 17 to start September.
Manuel Margot’s infield RBI single and hits from Franco and Arozarena gave the Rays a 6-3 lead in the second.
Franco added a two-point brace on the Rays’ fourth three-pointer.
“I think we made the right adjustments today,” Franco said through a translator. “We played very well and I hope we can continue with this energy.”
Cash opted for Ryan Yarbrough (3-8) to replace flyhalf JT Chargois to start the second, facing a pair of hitters with some career success against the southpaw.
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Hernández hit a first homer, his seventh in 34 at bats against Yarbrough. One out later, Merrifield tied it at 3 with his solo shot, giving him seven hits, including two home runs, on nine hits against the southpaw.
Merrifield added a two-point drive in the ninth.
Yarbrough left in the third with a right oblique stump and “most likely goes on the IL,” according to Cash.
Garrett Cleavinger replaced Yarbrough and allowed a hit in two scoreless innings before Shawn Armstrong, Brooks Raley and Colin Poche combined for three scoreless innings.
Aranda homered Berríos’ second field in a three-run first. Arozarena hit a brace, went third on a pitch at home plate, and scored on crazy ground.
Toronto’s Bo Bichette hit a double first, giving him 24 RBIs in 21 games in September.
STARTING THE GAME
Radio Rays play-by-play player Andy Freed caught a foul ball from Toronto’s George Springer in the seventh into a net that broadcasters keep in their box.
THE MAGIC OF MANOAH
The Blue Jays are lining up right-hander Alek Manoah (14-7. 2.40 ERA) to start the last game of the regular season or a potential wildcard opener.
Schneider would use Manoah if home advantage was at stake.
“I think there would be nothing better than playing in front of our fans in the playoffs after the last two (pandemic-affected) years,” Schneider said. “We haven’t been there with what the world and the country have been through.”
GO AND COME
Rays right-hander Kevin Herget, who made his major league debut Sept. 13 after a decade in the minors, has been slated for assignment.
Infielder/outfielder Miles Mastrobuoni has been selected from Triple-A Durham after seven years as a minor and a few weeks after his brother’s marriage.
“It’s been an eventful month for our family,” Mastrobuoni said.
Blue Jays: DE Lourdes Gurriel Jr. (left hamstring) does baseball activities and could start running soon. … INF Santiago Espinal (left oblique) went on the IL.
Rays: Ace Shane McClanahan (stiff neck) had a bullpen session and is expected to start on Sunday. … 3B Yandy Díaz (left shoulder) received a cortisone injection. … Cash said 2B Brandon Lowe (back) is still sore, but it’s unclear if that’s from the injury or from a recent shot.
Rays LHP Jeffrey Springs (9-4) will start Friday night. Toronto has not announced its starter.
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