TORONTO — The Toronto Blue Jays wanted to set an early tone in their series opener against the surging Tampa Bay Rays on Friday night.
George Springer did just that with a leadoff homer and the Jays never looked back in a 6-3 victory, ending the Rays’ season-opening win streak at 13 games.
Bo Bichette had five hits and Jose Berrios threw five strong innings in his best start of the year as Toronto (9-5) won for the eighth time in 10 games.
“I thought the approach was great and defence was on point,” said Blue Jays manager John Schneider. “These are things we talk about. When you play good teams like this, outs need to be outs.
“Between that and the way we pitched too, it was a very satisfying win.”
The Blue Jays took advantage of a pair of bases-loaded walks and a two-run error in the fifth inning. Josh Lowe and Christian Bethancourt cut into the lead with back-to-back homers off Yimi Garcia in the seventh.
Erik Swanson pitched a scoreless eighth inning for Toronto and Jordan Romano of Markham, Ont., worked the ninth for his fifth save.
The loss prevented Tampa Bay (13-1) from setting the modern-day Major League Baseball record for most consecutive wins at the start of a season.
“You obviously pay attention to what they did the first 13 games,” Schneider said. “You appreciate that as a baseball fan. They’re a good team. But I think we’re solely focused on winning a series.”
The 1982 Atlanta Braves and 1987 Milwaukee Brewers also went 13-0. The 1884 St. Louis Maroons went 20-0 in the Union Association.
“I’m really impressed by what I just watched for two weeks,” said Rays manager Kevin Cash. “When you’re talking about a team from 1884, you’re doing something pretty cool.”
Tampa Bay starter Drew Rasmussen (2-1) entered play with a perfect 0.00 earned-run average this season. Springer changed that by taking his second pitch of the game over the wall for his third homer of the year.
It was the 53rd leadoff homer of Springer’s career, moving him into a tie for third place on the all-time MLB list with Craig Biggio.
Berrios (1-2), meanwhile, retired the first eight Rays in order but left the game early with a left knee contusion after taking a comebacker off his leg. He collected the ball and threw out Diaz for the final out of the fifth inning before limping off the field.
Berrios allowed four hits and an earned run while striking out six. The leg bruise was not expected to keep him from making his next start.
“I tried to make better pitches,” said Berrios, who trimmed his ERA to 7.98 from 11.17. “We can’t be perfect but we can get closer.”
The Blue Jays loaded the bases in the fifth inning after Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. singled and Daulton Varsho walked. Rasmussen was pulled after striking out Matt Chapman.
Southpaw reliever Colin Poche came on and walked pinch-hitter Alejandro Kirk and Santiago Espinal to make it 4-1.
“They didn’t beat me,” Poche said. “It was all self-inflicted.”
Danny Jansen hit a tailor-made double play ball but second baseman Brandon Lowe missed shortstop Wander Franco’s throw, allowing two more runs to score.
“It kind of snowballed a little bit on us today,” Cash said.
Bichette, who’s hitting .391, had two doubles and three singles. He reached the 500-hit plateau for his career, doing so in a franchise-best 407 games.
Toronto outhit Tampa Bay 10-8 and announced attendance was 34,822. The game took two hours 37 minutes to play.
Chapman returned to the lineup after sitting out a game due to a viral illness.
The Toronto third baseman was named American League player of the week last Monday.
Blue Jays outfielder Kevin Kiermaier had two singles in his first game against his former team.
He signed a one-year deal with Toronto in the off-season after spending his entire big-league career with Tampa Bay. Kiermaier was drafted by the Rays in 2010 and played 10 seasons with the club.
Yusei Kikuchi (1-0, 6.75 earned-run average) was scheduled to start for Toronto on Saturday afternoon against fellow left-hander Josh Fleming.
The teams will close out the three-game series on Sunday afternoon.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 14, 2023.
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Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press