TORONTO — Coming into the Toronto Blue Jays’ final series of the season, manager Charlie Montoyo was in an odd position.
The team’s skipper had a chance to prevent the organization he spent 22 years with from earning their first playoff berth since 2013. Montoyo doesn’t have split loyalties by any means, but it’s no secret that Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash is a good friend of his and he’s happy to see the Rays succeed, unless they’re playing Toronto. That’s why his instructions to Cash earlier in the week were explicit: “clinch before you get here.”
Cash and the Rays weren’t able to accomplish that as they held onto a two-game lead over the Cleveland Indians in the wild card race when they arrived in Toronto with three games remaining. That left their fate, to some degree, in the Blue Jays’ hands. Meaningful baseball was to be played at Rogers Centre on Friday - even if it wasn’t on the Blue Jays’ terms.
“We’ll do what do every day, which is play to win,” Montoyo said of the situation before Friday’s action. “I know they have a good team and they’re playing great. Which is great, I’m happy for them. If we’re not in, I’m happy for them. But we’re going to play to win.”
The whole setup had potential for some of the highest-calibre drama seen at Rogers Centre this season. What those in attendance got was a battle where the Blue Jays came up well short, falling 6-2. With the Washington Nationals beating the Indians handily, the Rays punched their postseason ticket.
For the vast majority of the night, the game didn’t deliver on its promise. A Blue Jays lineup missing Bo Bichette looked utterly anemic out of the gate, not registering a hit until the fifth inning. For six innings the most exciting thing the starting nine managed was a bunt double off the bat of Cavan Biggio on a play the rookie said after the game he’d never even practiced.
Cavan Biggio with a demonstration of how to "hit" it where they ain't. pic.twitter.com/mJmNcC7LoK— Nick Ashbourne (@NickAshbourne) September 28, 2019
“Ever since I’ve been in the big leagues playing against the Rays they’ve played four outfielders against me and the whole middle of the field is wide open,” he said. “Going into that bat against Poche, I’m just trying to bunt it really hard off the barrel in the air. I didn’t really mean for it go that high.”
The Rays’ lead was just three runs, but it looked insurmountable considering how little the Blue Jays offence was producing. That is until Teoscar Hernandez followed a fielder’s choice from Reese McGuire with a looping opposite-field shot to make it a one-run game. ‘Let’s go Blue Jays’ chants rang out just a little louder than usual as savvy fans recognized the situation.
“I’m here for a good time, not a long time” - ⚾️ pic.twitter.com/SPTWXJvdql— Toronto Blue Jays (@BlueJays) September 28, 2019
It looked like the Blue Jays were going to be in a dogfight with a playoff club playing for its life - precisely the type of situation that would be a valuable experience for the club’s young players and a fun one for their fans. Unfortunately for Toronto, a rough Derek Law outing - combined with a brutal passed ball and error by McGuire - gave the Rays two runs back the very next half inning. They put the nail in the coffin with another run in the top of the ninth. What looked like a nail biter with playoff implications became a creeping coronation for the visiting team.
The #Rays have clinched a playoff spot. Tampa Bay is headed to the postseason for the first time since 2013. Rays’ fifth time reaching the playoffs in franchise history. They’ll play the A’s in the AL Wild Card.— Josh Tolentino (@JCTSports) September 28, 2019
The record is 96-64. Bottles will be popped tonight in Toronto. pic.twitter.com/hYRYBUUaCd
“Two things have happened this year that we’ve seen that are going to happen here the players will see and think ‘that’s going to be us,’” Montoyo said. “The ring ceremony in Boston everybody was there watching it. Now these guys clinching here, you see how sweet that is. I know they’re watching think ‘we’re going to get there.’”
“It sucks to watch even if we are 30 games out, or 40 games out,” Biggio added. “But that’s something we’re going to want to be doing.”
The chances of the Blue Jays throttling the Rays in the season’s final series to prevent them from playing October baseball was always a long shot. There’s a reason Tampa has won 96 games and the Blue Jays won’t touch 70 this year. Even so, that possibility brought a little life to the Blue Jays’ final outings.
Now 2019’s status quo returns for the club’s last two. After an exceedingly brief absence, meaningless baseball is back at Rogers Centre.
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