Blue Jays 2 Rays 1
TORONTO — Josh Donaldson wasn’t sure if his first-inning home run had enough pop to clear the right-field fence.
It did. And it ended up being the deciding factor in the game.
Donaldson provided the only offence starter Nick Tepesch needed as the Toronto Blue Jays held on for a 2-1 win over the Tampa Bay Rays on Monday in the opener of a four-game series between the division rivals.
The two-run shot — Donaldson’s 17th homer of the season and ninth to come in the first inning — followed a Jose Bautista leadoff walk and came on a 3-2 fastball from Rays starter Jake Odorizzi.
“He left a pitch out over the plate and I was able to barely get it over the fence — I’ll take it,” said Donaldson, who has eight homers in his last 16 games.
Tepesch (1-2) collected his first win in a Toronto uniform, allowing one run on four hits, three walks and two hit batsmen in his longest outing in nearly three years and closer Roberto Osuna pitched 1 1/3 scoreless innings to record a four-out save for the Blue Jays (57-61), who opened play four games back of a wild card spot.
Tepesch had allowed five earned runs on eight hits over 4 1/3 innings against the New York Yankees in his first start for Toronto last week. He was acquired from Minnesota in July for cash considerations.
“I just felt like I made better pitches at some critical times,” Tepesch said of the difference between his two starts as a Blue Jay.
“It was great to get a lead early and take it and run with it,” he added.
Odorizzi (6-6) gave up two runs on three hits and three walks while striking out four over six innings and Wilson Ramos had a solo home run for the reeling Rays (60-60), who have lost four straight and eight of their last 10.
Wilson followed Donaldson’s homer with one of his own, getting a run back for Tampa in the second inning by launching a 1-1 offering from Tepesch over the centre-field fence.
The score stayed that way the rest of the game, improving Toronto’s record in one-run games this season to 18-15.
“I feel like we’ve been on the wrong side of those a lot this year, especially against Tampa, they always somehow figure it out against us,” Donaldson said. “But we did a good job playing defence and we pitched extremely well today.”
Tepesch escaped a bases-loaded jam in the fourth. He issued a pair of one-out walks and hit Daniel Robertson with two out, then Corey Dickerson hit a fly ball to the right-field warning track to end the inning.
The Jays starter retired the next six batters he faced, needing just 15 pitches to do so.
The 28-year-old right-hander started the seventh inning by hitting Peter Bourjos in the knee with a pitch, his second hit batter of the day, and walking Robertson to end his night. Aaron Loup came in and got a strange force out, with the umpire originally calling two Tampa players out at second base.
The play began with Rob Refsnyder shorthopping a liner from Dickerson and tossing the ball to Ryan Goins at second. Goins got the immediate force out but tagged Bourjos, who quickly made his way back to the base. The play was reviewed and overturned, leaving Tampa with just one out, but Loup got a strikeout and pop fly to end the inning.
“They made the correct call once they looked at it,” Gibbons said of the play. “But yeah you’re hoping like hell for (a double play.)”
NOTES: Attendance was 32,151. … Toronto called up left-handed reliever Tim Mayza before the game. … The Blue Jays continue their four-game series against Tampa Bay on Tuesday night. Marco Estrada (5-7, 4.85 earned-run average) will start for Toronto while the Rays counter with Blake Snell (0-6, 4.69 ERA).