Blue Jays drop opener for Rays in crucial 4-game series between play-off contenders

Wander Franco had three RBI’s, Jonathan Aranda homered and the Tampa Bay Rays defeated the Toronto Blue Jays 10-5 on Thursday-evening in the opener of a four-game big series between playoff candidates.

Randy Arozarena had three hits and scored two runs for the Rays, who came out of a three game run in which they swept Houston and scored only twice.

“Baseball is weird. I saw a score tonight that was a little different.” So said Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash. “They’d do well to flush it, make it to the next day, get ready to work, get better and find a way to win.”

Tampa Bay (83-67) defeated Toronto (84-66) within one game for first place in the AL wildcard standings. Seattle (82-67) is third, four games ahead of Baltimore.

Whit Merrifield homered twice for Toronto and Teoscar Hernandez also went deep. Jose Berrios (11-6) was tagged for six runs and seven hits in two innings.

“It was just kind of weird to move forward and not send guys away,” Blue Jays interim manager John Schneider said of Berrios, who threw 74 pitches.

Toronto dropped three out of four after winning 13 of 17 to start in September.

Manuel Margot’s infield RBI single and runscoring hits by Franco and Arozarena gave the Rays a 6-3 lead in the second.

Franco added a two-run double during the Rays’ three-run fourth.

“I think we made the right adjustments today,” Franco said through a translator. “We played very well and hopefully we can continue with this energy.”

Cash chose to have Ryan Yarbrough (3-8) replace opener JT Chargois to start second, facing a pair of batters with some career success against the lefthander.

Hernandez hit a leadoff homer, his seventh in 34 at bats against Yarbrough. One out later, Merrifield made it 3 with his solo shot, which gave him seven hits, including two homeruns, in nine at bats against the lefthander.

Merrifield added a two-run drive in the ninth.

Yarbrough took off in the third with a right skew and is “very likely going on the IL,” Cash said.

Garrett Clevinger replaced Yarbrough and gave up one hit in two scoreless innings before Shawn Armstrong, Brooks Raley and Colin Poche combined three hitless innings.

Aranda homered on the second pitch by Berrios in a first three run. Arozarena hit a runscoring double, moved to third base on a throw to the plate and scored on a wild pitch.

Toronto’s Bo Bichette hit a runscoring double in the first, giving him 24 RBI’s in 21 games in September.

Ray’s radio play-by-play man Andy Freed caught a foul ball from Toronto’s George Springer during the seventh in a net that the broadcasters keep in their trade.

The Blue Jays line up righthander Alek Manoah (14-7. 2.40 ERA) to start the final 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 for our fans in the post season after the last few years.” [impacted by the pandemic]Schneider said. “We have not been there with what the world and the country have been through.”

Rays-righthander Kevin Herget, who made his big league debut on September 13 after a decade in the minors, was named on assignment.

Infielder/outfielder Miles Mastrobuoni was selected from Triple-A Durham after seven years in the minors and a few weeks after his brother’s wedding.

“It’s been an eventful month for our family,” Mastrobuoni said.

Blue Jays outfielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr. (left hamstring) participates in baseball activities and could be running soon. Infielder Santiago Espinal (left oblique) went on the IL.

Rays ace Shane McClanahan (neck stiffness) had a bullpen session and will start on Sunday.

Rays’ Jeffrey Springs (9-4) will start Friday night. Toronto has not announced its starter.