ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Beyond ace lefty Blake Snell, the small-market Tampa Bay Rays are light on household names.
On the postseason stage, the American League’s No. 1 seed showed just where all that dominance is coming from.
“Tonight was a pretty good representation of the Tampa Bay Rays — our players, how we go about winning games,” manager Kevin Cash said. “We found success being really good in tight games. Pitching, the defense, and timely hits are the reasons for it.”
With Snell taking a no-hitter into the sixth inning, shortstop Willy Adames making splashy defensive plays and Manuel Margot delivering a two-run homer, the AL East champions opened the playoffs Tuesday with a 3-1 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays.
The Rays will try to advance in the best-of-three wild-card matchup Game 2 at Tropicana Field, where seats will be empty with the exceptions family and friends from both teams.
“I think the biggest thing is not to press, not to really panic. That’s probably the worst thing we can do as a team,” Blue Jays third baseman Cavan Biggio said.
“It’s a bigger stage right now and not a lot of our guys have really played in the playoffs before,” the son of Hall of Famer Craig Biggio added, “but I think we learned from this one today.”
Snell allowed just two baserunners until Alejandro Kirk singled leading off the sixth. The 27-year-old lefty retired the next two batters, but Cash didn’t give him a chance to finish the inning.
Diego Castillo, Nick Anderson and Pete Fairbanks followed the starter, limiting the Blue Jays to two singles, two doubles and Bo Bichette’s eighth-inning sacrifice fly the rest of the way.
Fairbanks closed for his first save of the season as Cash kept taking a fresh and innovative approach to using his pitching staff.
Snell yielded one hit, walked two and struck out nine, tying a Rays postseason record.
“I’m getting into a groove. It usually takes me a little while to get going anyway,” Snell said. “It’s been two months but I usually start slow. I’m starting to get the hang of it, starting to feel it. The playoff energy always gets me a lot more excited, for sure.”
Toronto reliever Robbie Ray took the loss, giving up one run and one hit in three innings. Margot hit his homer to left-center field off A.J. Cole to push Tampa Bay’s lead to 3-0 in the seventh inning.
The wild-card Blue Jays broke through in the eighth against Anderson, didn’t allow a run in 18 of 19 regular season appearances.
Rowdy Tellez’s pinch-hit single gave Toronto a spark. Biggio followed with a double before Bichette delivered his sacrifice fly to make it 3-1.
Anderson avoided further damage when Adames made a nice play to snare Randal Grichuk’s liner to end the inning.
Fairbanks worked a scoreless ninth to became the 13th different pitcher to earn a save for the Rays this season.
The Rays are back in the playoffs after beating Oakland in last year’s AL wild-card game and losing to Houston in the divisional round.
With a league-best 40-20 record, they captured their first division in 10 years. Tampa Bay also won six of 10 meetings against Toronto despite being outscored 48-44 and outhomered 17-11 during the regular season series.
Snell has only had modest success against the Blue Jays during his career, but the young division rivals had no answers for the lefty Tuesday until Kirk singled through the hole between first and second base with Castillo already warming up in the Rays bullpen.
The Rays starter walked Grichuk with two outs in the first before fanning Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Teoscar Hernandez drew a one-out walk before being erased on an inning-ending double play that got Snell through the fifth.
“The moment he was throwing all of his pitches for strikes, it was going to be tough for our hitters. He’s pretty good,” said Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo, who served on Cash’s staff with the Rays from 2015-18.
“I’m not really defending our hitters. We did chase a lot. That’s why we struck out nine times against Snell,” Montoyo said. “But I do know when he’s on, that’s what hitters usually do, and I could tell he was on. ... I could tell that from the beginning.”
Matt Shoemaker, who missed a month of the regular season with a right shoulder injury, started and worked three scoreless innings for the Blue Jays.
Randy Arozarena led off the fourth with a triple off Ray, and scored when a wild pitch on a walk to Adames got past catcher Danny Jansen.
Rookie LHP Shane McClanahan, who’s yet to appear in a major league game, was a surprise addition to Tampa Bay’s 28-man wild card roster. The 23-year-old learned of the decision from Cash and general manager Erik Neander on Monday. The first people he tried to call were his mother and father, who didn’t answer. When his mother called back two hours later and asked what was wrong, he delivered the news. “She was happy,” McClanahan said. “I was like, ’Hey, you might want to answer this phone call.”
Blue Jays: Tellez (right knee strain) was added to the wild-card roster after going on the 10-day injured list on Sept. 9 and missing the rest of the regular season.
Rays: INF Yandy Díaz (right hamstring strain), out since Sept. 1, was added to the playoff roster. 1B Ji-Man Choi (left hamstring strain) also returned.
Lefty Hyun Jin Ryu starts for the Blue Jays against right-hander Tyler Glasnow, who’s been Tampa Bay’s best pitcher. Both will be working on an extra day of rest.