Rays battle back, beat Blue Jays, Bo Bichette

Rays 6 Blue Jays 4

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. —The best thing about Thursday’s game was the most important for the Rays, which was that they won, beating the Jays 6-4 to maintain their hold on the AL’s top wild-card spot.

Austin Meadows hit a homer, the 27th of his stellar season, to put them back ahead in the seventh and they held on from there.

They improved to 83-59 with the win, a season-best 24 games over .500, remained one-half game ahead of the A’s, who also won, and increased their lead over the Indians, who lost again, to 1 { games.

But there were some things that didn’t go so well.

Such as how they let a 4-2 lead get away in the seventh. That leftfielder Tommy Pham left the game with right forearm tightness, and catcher Travis d’Arnaud with neck and shoulder tightness. That dazzling Toronto rookie Bo Bichette, the Lakewood High product, has already made himself at home at the Trop, hitting a pair of homers.

Also, that there still doesn’t seem to be much sign of playoff chase interest from the fans, given an announced gathering of just 5,962, only slightly more than the franchise record low 5,786 they drew on May 28.

There were plenty of names from the past circulating through Tropicana Field on Thursday.

Former star first baseman Carlos Pena was in the YouTube broadcast booth, and former Fox Sports Sun reporter Kelly Nash was doing in-game updates.

B.J. Upton’s standing as the only Ray with a 20-20 season was struck down when Pham matched his performance with a steal of third in the seventh, and then next got caught in a rundown and tagged out.

Charlie Montoyo, the former Rays big-league coach and longtime minor-league manager, was in the visiting dugout in his new gig managing the Jays.

Thursday’s game didn’t start well for the Rays.

Bichette worked through 12 pitches from Rays starter Austin Pruitt and then homered on the 13th.

The Rays didn’t do much in the early innings against Toronto’s Trent Thornton, then got something going in the fourth with some help.

Meadows led off with a double, then scored when first baseman Justin Smoak lost control of the ball when trying to tag Pham on a high throw. They cashed in again as Pham came around and scored on Avisail Garcia’s sacrifice line out to center.

The Rays added runs in the fifth, when a Joey Wendle double led to a bases loaded walk by d’Arnaud, and in the sixth, when Garcia tripled and scored as pinch-hitter Nate Lowe delivered a sac fly that leftfielder Derek Fisher dropped.

But Bichette struck again, with a two-run homer in the top of the seventh to tie it 4-4.

The Rays went back ahead 5-4 in the bottom of th seventh as Meadows lead off with his 27th homer. And they added a run in the eighth when the always hustling Wendle beat out an infield single with two outs and Meadows followed with a double, pushing his team-high RBI total to 75.

Emilio Pagan kept it tense in the ninth, allowing a double and a walk to bring Bichette up as the potential go-ahead run with one out. Willy Adames got only one out when he didn’t cleanly handle a double-play grounder, but Cavan Biggio flied out to end it.

Of the 21 games the Rays had left going into play Thursday, they had potentially tough matchups with the NL-leading Dodgers (two games), the AL-leading Yankees (two) and the still-contending Red Sox (four).

The biggest chunk of games, though, are against the 55-86 Blue Jays, seven total, with four this weekend and three to end the season in Toronto.

Which makes for an interesting square off with Montoyo.

And thus the potential for Montoyo’s team to spoil their postseason hopes.

Professionally, Montoyo says what he has to say, that he’s only concerned with what his team is doing.

“We’re going to play to win every game,” he said before Thursday’s game. “We’re professionals here and we’re going to play to win. That’s my job, to beat every team we play against.”

But personally, he’s hoping it doesn’t come down to the last three games Sept. 27, 28, 29 at the Rogers Centre.

“I want the Rays to do well,” Montoyo said, “They’re my friends over there. I was here 24 years. Kevin is my buddy. I want them to do well. But when we play them we’re going to play to win.

“I don’t want to use the word “spoilers.” I don’t want to spool anything. I’m hoping they clinch (a playoff spot) by the time that we play the last three games honestly. I kid around, but I’m hoping they do. And then we just play the games.”

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