ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Shane Baz pitched two-hit ball for five innings to win his major league debut and the AL East-leading Tampa Bay Rays cut Toronto’s lead in the wild-card chase, holding off the Blue Jays 6-4 on Monday night.
Tampa Bay holds a seven-game advantage over second-place Boston with 11 games remaining.
The Blue Jays, who scored twice in the ninth inning and left the bases loaded, had their edge over the New York Yankees for the second AL wild-card spot drop to a half-game.
Baz (1-0) gave up a pair of home runs and little else, striking out five and walking none. The 22-year-old righty, promoted from Triple-A Durham, was on this year’s silver medal-winning U.S. Olympic baseball team.
Toronto, 15-4 in September, got homers from Teoscar Hernández, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Marcus Semien.
The Blue Jays were limited to two hits and down 6-2 entering the ninth before George Springer had a leadoff double and scored on Semien’s 41st homer off David Robertson.
JT Chargois replaced Robertson after Vladimir Guerrero Jr. walked and got two outs before Toronto loaded the bases on Danny Jansen’s single and a walk to Gurriel.
Breyvic Valera got ahead 3-0 before taking a called third strike on a full-count pitch from Dietrich Enns, who picked up his second save
Tampa Bay had a runner reach second against Robbie Ray (12-6) in the first, second and fourth but failed to score. The Rays finally got a key hit when Yandy Díaz connected for a three-run homer in the fifth.
Taylor Walls had a potential one-out double in the Rays fifth turn into a single after his grounder down the left-field line struck umpire Nic Lentz. After Kevin Kiermaier had an infield single, Díaz hit his 12th homer.
Tampa Bay took a 4-2 lead in the sixth when Joey Wendle scored from second when third baseman Jake Lamb was charged with a throwing error on an infield hit by Kiermaier, who was thrown out trying to score on the play.
Manuel Margot had a seventh-inning RBI single and Wendle hit a solo homer in the eighth to put the Rays ahead 6-2.
Baz retired his first four batters, including striking out Springer leading off, before Hernández hit his 29th homer in second. The right-hander set down the next 10 hitters before until Gurriel connected for his 20th homer in the fifth.
Ray, the majors strikeout leader with 238, gave up three runs, seven hits, two walks and fanned five. His team record-tying stretch of striking out eight or more in seven straight games ended.
STRANGE DOUBLE PLAY
Kiermaier was called out at third base on an appeal play after Gurriel made a nifty running catch in left on Díaz’s third-inning liner. Kiermaier broke for third on pitch, touched the base and took a step toward home before heading back to second without re-touching third.
Rays manager Kevin Cash said standout rookie INF Wander Franco (right hamstring) will play with Triple-A Durham on Wednesday and Thursday, and may return Friday.
Blue Jays: Manager Charlie Montoyo said Springer could soon resume playing in the outfield. Springer returned from his third IL stint with a left knee sprain on Aug. 30.
Rays: Reliever Andrew Kittredge (neck tightness) was placed on the 10-day IL. … RHP Chris Archer (left hip) was transferred to the 60-day IL, ending this season.
Toronto RHP Alek Manoah (6-2) and Rays RHP Drew Rasmussen (3-1) are Tuesday night’s starters. Manoah is 2-1 with 0.96 ERA in three games against the Rays this season.
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Mark Didtler, The Associated Press