ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Rays were saved by a replay reversal, plus a pair of reversals by star centre fielder Kevin Kiermaier.
Alex Cobb and four relievers combined on a six-hitter and Kiermaier made two spectacular catches Thursday as the Rays beat the Toronto Blue Jays 2-0.
Both of Kiermaier’s plays came in the fifth inning. The two-time Gold Glover made an all-out sprint to catch Steve Pearce’s drive with two runners on base, tumbling onto the warning track in right-centre.
Kiermaier then rushed in a long way to make diving grab on Justin Smoak’s shallow fly with the bases loaded and two outs
The Rays also benefited when an apparent two-run double by Josh Donaldson was turned into a foul ball on replay. Donaldson eventually walked and was left on first base.
“That’s why this can be a game of inches,” Kiermaier said. “We needed every centimetre, every millimeter possible on the Donaldson foul ball, and they got the call right.”
Toronto manager John Gibbons wasn’t quite so sure after a 98-second review determined that the ball had barely missed the foul line.
“They must have better cameras up there … I would expect, hopefully, because that looked like it caught something,” Gibbons said. “But that’s why they have replay.”
The only debate about Kiermaier’s catches was over which one was better.
“I heard he was a good outfielder, but I couldn’t believe he caught that first ball,” said reliever Steve Cishek, who has been with the Rays less than a month. “He found another gear.”
Rays manager Kevin Cash was even more impressed by the second catch.
“The ball that he ran down in the gap, from my view I was pretty confident he was going to catch it,” Cash said. “The ball that Smoak hit … from where he was starting from, there are not many people that get to that ball and make a play on it.”
Kiermaier chose the first one.
“The degree of difficulty was there for both of them, but I made the second one a lot more difficult than it should have been,” he said. “I broke back on it … and I knew once I messed up that I had to catch it.”
A day after the same two teams combined for nine home runs in a 7-6 Toronto win, pitching and defence took over.
Cobb, making his first start in 19 days, was taken out of the game in the fifth inning after throwing 94 pitches despite giving up no runs. Cishek (2-0) got the win and Alex Colome pitched the ninth for his 38th save.
Tom Koehler (0-1) pitched five innings in his first start for Toronto, giving up one run on five hits while striking out seven. He was 1-5 with a 7.92 ERA when Miami traded him to the Blue Jays last weekend.
Daniel Robertson drove in the game’s first run with a sacrifice fly in the second. It came after a single by Jesus Sucre and a couple of walks by Koehler.
Corey Dickerson hit his 24th home run in the eighth.
Blue Jays: RHP Aaron Sanchez, who last pitched July 17, is throwing and reporting no blister issues with his middle finger, but manager Gibbons said Sanchez will have to build up his arm again before he returns.
Rays: 2B Brad Miller left the game in the fifth inning with a bruised right shoulder after being hit by Koehler’s pitch in the second inning.
Blue Jays: LHP J.A. Happ (6-9) will pitch at home against the Minnesota Twins in the opener of a three-game series Friday night.
Rays: RHP Jake Odorizzi (6-7), who grew up in the St. Louis area, will make his third career start against the Cardinals on Friday night in the opener of a nine-game road trip.