ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – On the outside of the circus tent that Tropicana Field resembles, the game-time temperature for Wednesday’s series finale between the Rays and Blue Jays was 30 degrees.
The sun was shining and Florida life was business as usual. Which is to say, indifferent to major league baseball this time of year.
To call it a crowd or even a gathering is a stretch, as there were just 6,166 on hand to watch the Rays take advantage of the Jays’ inability to cash in runs and finish off a series sweep with a 4-3 extra-innings victory.
Tampa Bay won it in the bottom of the 11th after the Jays left seven runners stranded from the eighth inning on. Shortstop Willy Adames, with a bases-loaded walk-off single, brought out the brooms for the Rays, who improved to 34-19.
The Jays, meanwhile, slipped to a season-worst 14 games below .500 (21-35) after losing all three to the Rays and have dropped seven of their past eight.
Worse yet, they are on pace to win just 61 games this season as they head to Denver for a three-game series versus the Rockies beginning on Friday.
All part of the growing pains Charlie Montoyo expected. The first-year manager believes his team will grow from such squandered opportunities. In the latest loss, his team was a helpless 2-for-16 with runners in scoring position, many of those late in the game. In total, they stranded 11 on the base paths.
“We’re just not there right now, but we’re going to get there,” Montoyo said. “We’ve had our chances, but it’s kind of been like that the whole time.
“Sooner or later, we’re going to get (timely runs.) I’ve seen it. When you become good, those runs come in and you don’t leave runners on base.”
As for the attendance debacle at the Trop, it’s tough to blame on an opponent. Wednesday’s announced attendance was the second smallest “crowd” to watch a Rays game in the history of the Trop, just 380 people more than the record-low of 5,786 the previous night.
Really, it’s an insulting turnout for a young and successful Rays team and one with reigning American League Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell on the mound for the series finale.
How bad was it? Other than following the occasional burst of scoring in this marathon, players could be heard over fans and the beer sellers may have been loudest of all.
What more does the team have to do to attract fans in a part of the state that sees snowbirds fill Grapefruit League stadiums but turn to indifference for the big league team? (The vocal and jilted fans of the Montreal Expos have ideas, but that debate is for another day.) Whatever the reasons for the vacancy rate, it is certainly a bad look on MLB and it has to be disheartening for a Rays team that figures to be a factor in the AL East this year and beyond.
“If these guys start playing some meaningful games late in the year and in the post season I think people will be here, I really do,” said Jays catcher Luke Maile, a former Ray. “But It’s hard, man. It’s 95 degrees every day and the sun’s out you come into a place like this and it just turns people off.”
Trailing 3-2, the Jays rallied to square it up at 3-3 in the eighth when four consecutive players reached base. But with the bases loaded and nobody out, the Toronto offence went meekly as Freddy Galvis hit a ground ball into a 4-2-3 double play and Brandon Drury flew out to centre.
The above was so typical of the situation Montoyo feels will improve over time.
The Jays left two more stranded in scoring position in the ninth as the offence once again laboured to come through. Vlad Guerrero Jr., who came in as a pinch hitter, doubled with one out but couldn’t be moved around.
– Though they’d love his bat to be more productive, the Jays are keen on Jonathan Davis’ prowess in centre field, a belief punctuated by a Wednesday night snag that is an early candidate for play of the year.
Shading towards right-centre, Davis took off o the dead run to chase down an Avisail Garcia shot deep in left centre. Davis left his feet and made the grab while airborne, quite possibly saving a couple runs in the process.
“That’s one of the most unbelievable plays I’ve ever seen,” said Jays rookie starter Trent Thornton, who went 4.2 innings and allowed seven hits and three runs while striking out five in his 12th start. “He hit the ball really well. to see him just dive like that and catch that ball it was spectacular.”
The Jays were swept for the fifth time this season and the third time on the road and now find themselves a whopping 15.5 games behind the AL East-leading Yankees.
Selecting 11th overall in next Monday’s 2019 draft, the Jays are obviously hoping they will be able to land an impact player to add to their cadre of young talent.
That certainly adds to the level of excitement for the Jays director of amateur scouting Steve Sanders.
“There are always surprises, whether you are picking at 11 or five or 25,” Sanders said Wednesday on a conference call. “But picking at 11 is a little different than picking at 22. It allows you to be a little more focused and strategic, not only in the way we prepare the room (on draft night) but the way we prepared over the last few months.
“But for us, we try to prepare for every possible scenario. Do we anticipate some of the very top players being available? Probably to. But we try not to rule anything out.”
AROUND THE BASES
Guerrero was out of the starting lineup for the first time since the Victoria Day game at home to Boston. Normal rest, Montoyo said, especially after playing so many consecutive games on hard turf here and at home. Plus, it gives the big rookie back-to-back off days with Thursday’s idle day in Denver.
– After reliever Ryan Tepera announced his elbow surgery on Twitter earlier in the day, the team confirmed it prior to first pitch. Tepera won’t be able to throw for another six weeks after having bone spurs removed from his right elbow.
– Following a pre-game side session in which he still felt irritation in his right shoulder, reliever Jacob Waguespack was placed on the 10-day injury list. Back from bereavement leave, rookie hurler Elvis Luciano took the open roster spot.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019