Rays use bullpen to beat Blue Jays 9-4 for 90th win
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Eds: Rays 9, Blue Jays 4. Updates with new lead and quotes. With AP Photos.
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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) -- The Tampa Bay Rays found success with a new pitching formula.
Ryan Yarbrough got his rookie-leading 16th win and the Rays turned another bullpen game into their 90th victory, beating the Toronto Blue Jays 9-4 on Sunday.
The Rays (90-72) went to the unconventional plan of using relievers to open games in addition to traditional starters in mid-May because of injuries.
The results were about equal, as Tampa Bay went 46-38 with regular starters and 44-34 when utilizing the bullpen, and the trend began to take hold around the majors. But no team did it as often as the Rays.
"I don't think you can really argue with the results we've had with it, and not just with me but with other guys too," Yarbrough said. "For it to work that well was a big blessing, and you never know, if it didn't work that well, we'd never know where we could be right now."
Ryne Stanek was Tampa Bay's "opener" for the 29th time and went two scoreless innings. Yarbrough (16-6) followed and gave up two runs and four hits over three innings to get his 14th relief win.
Austin Pruitt went the final 3 1/3 innings to pick up his fourth save. He's gone three or more innings in four of his five career saves.
The Rays went 87-60 after losing 12 of their first 15 games.
"Hopefully the groundwork has been laid," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "The core group that has gotten some opportunities, played at a really high level, learned how to win together."
Outgoing Blue Jays manager John Gibbons decided to have some fun in the finale and let 35-year-old catcher Russell Martin manage the game.
Martin said he "thought about it for a couple seconds" before deciding to keep himself on the bench, declining the opportunity to serve as a player-manager.
"It was fun," Martin said. "Didn't realize how much went into it. A cool experience. It's tougher than it looks."
Toronto announced Wednesday that Gibbons will not be back as manager next season.
"He's one of my favorites," Martin said. "I'm going to miss him. He's a special guy. He's kind of like having a second dad."
Over two stints totaling 11 seasons, Gibbons went 793-789 with the Blue Jays.
Toronto finished 73-89, a three-game drop from 2017.
Tampa Bay improved 10 games from last year and joined the 2012 Rays (90) and 2013 Texas Rangers (91) as the only 90-win teams since the second wild card was introduced in 2012 to miss the postseason.
Joey Wendle and Jake Bauers both had two RBIs for the Rays, who went 13-6 against Toronto. Tampa Bay has dominated the series at home, going 111-74.
Sam Gaviglio (3-10) allowed five runs and six hits in 5 2/3 innings.
Despite the strong on-field showing, the Rays' announced home attendance of 1,154,973 was their lowest since 2005 (1,141,699). Tampa Bay drew 1,253,619 last season. Sunday's crowd was 13,313. Only Miami (811,104) drew fewer fans.
STAYING THE COURSE
The Rays are happy with the progress of two-way player Brendan McKay at Single-A Charlotte this season and plan to continue the experiment. "Where this ends up going I think we don't know exactly still, but we're really encouraged," Tampa Bay senior vice president of baseball operations Chaim Bloom said.
Bloom said McKay, whose season ended prematurely because of an oblique injury, has been working in the instructional league and has gotten back "to where he's a healthy player."
RAYS' HOT STREAKS
Tommy Pham walked in the third to extend his on-base streak to 32 games, the longest active streak in the majors. Johnny Damon holds the team record with 39. ... Wendle set a club rookie record by hitting .300. ... Mallex Smith stole 40 bases.
Blue Jays: Open the 2019 season at home against Detroit on March 28.
Rays: Host AL West champion Houston on opening day of 2019.