Yandy Diaz dropped his bat at the plate as he unloaded on an inside pitch.
He slowed from a jog to a walk before reaching the first-base bag, staring into the Tampa Bay dugout and pumping his fist as a three-run home run cleared the wall. It was a shot that pulled the Rays in front, finally taking advantage of a grinding Robbie Ray start.
Two batters later, as Julian Merryweather jogged in to formally end Ray’s day, the lefty starter shook his head entering Toronto’s dugout. For the first four innings, Ray did what he's done all season: post zeroes. But Monday's start wasn't the Ray we've become accustomed to, nibbling at the zone, working deep into counts, and failing to complete six-plus innings for just the second time in his last 11 starts. Though Ray gave Toronto's bats a chance to seize the game, without the routine dominance of their Cy Young ace, the Blue Jays fell short.
"You gotta give them credit for having Robbie Ray throw a lot of pitches," manager Charlie Montoyo said. "But still Robbie kept us in the game."
In the fourth, Ray slapped his glove, staring down at the mound in frustration after not getting the inside strike from home plate umpire Ron Kulpa. As pitching coach Pete Walker yelled from the dugout, Ray dug back in, just missing with a slider low to allow the second walk of his inning. Toronto’s starter lived on the edge of the zone Monday, not allowing much hard contact, but working deep into counts and racking up an early pitch count.
"I felt like I stuck some fastballs in that were really close, and they were able to not swing at it," Ray said. "Or I would throw a really good slider and they would lay off of it."
Despite lengthy first and fourth innings, Ray held Tampa off the scoreboard before the Diaz fifth-inning jack. The three-run homer was just the second three-run shot of Ray's 2021 season, and only the ninth (of 29 homers allowed) multi-run blast. His increased command and domination of the strike zone have thrust Ray into the top tier of pitchers in baseball, positioning him as the -275 AL Cy Young favorite heading into Monday night.
But, as the Rays tend to do, they pushed Toronto's starter. A week after Ray owned the Rays, tossing seven innings of one-run ball in Toronto, allowing just four baserunners and striking out 13, the Tampa hitters struck back. On Monday, Tampa pushed Ray for 97 pitches in just four and one-third innings, drawing a pair of walks, scoring three runs, and tacking seven hits — only the third time this season Ray's allowed seven or more hits in a start.
"They just had really good at-bats," Ray said." I don't think there was anything in particular, they just made me work the whole night."
He left early and in line for a loss, but Ray still give the Jays a chance to win. Toronto loaded the bases in the ninth, putting the winning run on, but couldn't pick up their ace. Ray's grinding outing didn't translate to a Blue Jay win Monday, but he'll have at least two chances to rebound in the final weeks of the season.