Never in doubt!

On a nail-biting win in St. Pete, Manoah the bulldog, Gurriel's growth, Semien's speed, Mayza's magnificence, the Kiermaier Kontroversy, Joe effing West, an even series, scoreboard watching, and more!

The Blue Jays gave us a stark reminder of the fact that nothing is ever as easy in a playoff race as it seemed during their hot streak at the start of September, but they scratched and clawed and hung on to win — and, importantly, avoid losing ground to the Yankees and Red Sox — in a heart-stopping game with the Rays at the Trop. So let’s talk about it!

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Tuesday (Blue Jays 4 - Rays 2)

Well that wasn’t agonizing at all, was it? Here’s three up, three down…

▲ Alek Manoah

I don’t know if the Blue Jays are going to make the playoffs, and I don’t know how the Blue Jays intend to line up their starting pitchers if they do, but Alek Manoah keeps making a very strong case to be more than just the-most-obvious-starter-to-be-used-as-a-bullpen-weapon.

Frankly, with what’s gone on with Hyun Jin Ryu lately, maybe that’s a moot question. But if it’s still up in the air, I think Manoah showed once again on Tuesday night that he can battle and find a way to be successful even if he doesn’t have his best stuff. Frankly, that’s what I want in a playoff starter.

Now, when I say he didn’t have his “best stuff,” it wasn’t in the same way as Robbie Ray on Monday night. Manoah's velocity was slightly higher than it's been this season on average, and the break on his slider was only slightly down. The issue was command, as he constantly had runners on thanks to the six walks he issued over six innings of work. These were in addition to the five hits and one hit batter also registered against him. And while some of the walks — and you best believe we'll get to this — were of the questionable variety, he never let it get to him, never lost focus, and kept on pitching his game.

The fact that he managed to allow only two runs may have been slightly miraculous, but that's really the whole thing. When he needed to be, he was good. And there was no better example of that than his last pitch of the game.

After the Jays had managed to claw back the lead in the top of the sixth, Manoah came back out for the bottom of the frame, with a pitch count already at 81. He made quick work of Manuel Margot, managed to strike out Kevin Kiermaier despite starting out the at-bat down 2-0, but then lost a battle with Mike Zunino, who doubled to left. Up stepped Brett Phillips, who only needed a single to put this game right back up on the knife's edge. Manoah had other ideas, striking him out on four pitches, ending emphatically with this whiff on one up in the zone.

In a game where every pitch felt huge — and felt like you might get jobbed by the useless umpire — that was a big one. And as much fun as it was early in the season to dream on what Manoah might possibly be after he was so lights out in spring training and in Triple-A, it’s somehow even more fun to see what he already is.

▲ Out Rays-ing the Rays

Four runs in nine innings isn’t anything to write home about, but in this series, against this team, in this building, every single one of those runs felt absolutely huge.

And what was especially gratifying about the ones the Jays scored on Tuesday was the way that did it.

No, this isn't me turning into a "small ball" guy. I don't think teams should play for one run — that's the best way to not score three or four. But I do love to see the Jays capitalize and do the little things right.

In the third, Breyvic Valera knocked in the first Jays RBI of the game on a ground out to second with runners at first and third, tying the game and giving the Jays a chance to possibly still cash the runner at second. Clearly not his intention, but it was sound base running, and sometimes you've just got to take what you can get.

Lourdes Gurriel Jr. hit a solo shot in the fifth to put the Jays up 2-1, because of course he did. With the the blast and another hit, Gurriel now has a 115 wRC+ for the season — a remarkable feat for a guy who limped into the All-Star break with a mark of just 87. If you feel like he's simply got better and better as the season has gone on, you're not wrong. (The image below does not include data from Tuesday, so expect that line to keep rebounding upwards.)

For me, though, it was the go-ahead run in this one that was most impressive.

With the Rays having just tied it in the bottom of the fifth, and the formerly great Nick Anderson now in the game to replace starter Drew Rasmussen, Marcus Semien stepped in and took a walk. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. then came to the plate, and after a bit of a battle ended up seeing a curve on the inner black that he managed to club softly into left field. Semien, who had been threatening to steal throughout entire at-bat, had already turned on the jets. Looking more a member of the Rays than the Blue Jays, he made it to third on the play, and drew a late throw in the process, allowing Vlad to glide into second.

One batter later, Bo Bichette would cash Semien with a sac fly. That would be the only run the Jays would get that inning, making the second baseman’s aggression on the bases all the more crucial.

Semien, as pointed out on Twitter by my Blue Jays Happy Hour cohost Nick Ashbourne, has quietly been a pretty great base runner this season. In fact, according to FanGraphs’ base running metric (BsR), he ranks 30th among 242 players with at least 300 plate appearances this season. (It’s a counting stat, so partly that’s just because he plays so much — for example, he’s provided about the same value on the bases as Jazz Chisholm (119 games played) and Ronald Acuña Jr. (82 games played) — but still!)

The Jays' insurance run didn't come easily either. George Springer led off the eighth with a 105 mph infield single off the glove of third baseman Yandy Díaz. Two outs later, Bo Bichette singled him to second, then Teoscar Hernández cashed him on a single of his own.

Most impressive in all that was Springer, who not only hit the ball with more authority than he has in at least a couple weeks, but also showed some real wheels to get home from second on Teo's single. It's been a rough go for him as he tries to play through this knee injury, but that was a bright spot and hopefully a sign of better times ahead. They could really use the real Springer over the next couple of weeks!

▲ Tim Mayza

Perhaps it was because he didn't suffer much at the hands of home plate umpire "Country" Joe West (who we will still definitely get to!), but Tim Mayza certainly acquitted himself better than any of the other Blue Jays relievers called upon in this one.

Trevor Richards couldn't find the zone in the eighth and was fortunate to escape after walking a pair of batters to get to Mike Zunino with two outs. If there's one thing Richards hasn't been good at this season, it's keeping the ball in the ballpark. He's allowed 11 in 61 innings (1.62 HR/9), and though the odds were still in his favour against Zunino — who has blasted 31 homers in just 355 plate appearances — they certainly weren't great odds. So that was uneasy!

Then in the ninth, Jordan Romano got two quick outs before walking — with some assistance from West — the bases loaded. He eventually escaped, but it was awfully uncomfortable too!

Mayza’s night was comparatively easy.

The always dangerous Brandon Lowe put the first pitch he saw in play and got himself out. Ji-Man Choi got down 0-2 on a pair of sinkers, then took a slider low and away before swinging over top of a slider on the outside corner. Then Díaz watched three straight balls go by before swinging at what should have been ball four (but might have been called a strike a strike anyway).

Mayza has now allowed just two runs over his last 13 innings. He is by no means perfect — no reliever is — but he’s been incredibly reliable, and it’s hard to imagine the Jays could have had the run of success they’ve been on lately without him.

▼ The Kiermaier controversy

I guess I’m supposed to have some kind of a hot take on the Kevin Keirmaier flap that broke late on Tuesday afternoon while I was having a nap. Haha.

Well, I really don’t.

In case you missed it, Sportsnet’s Arash Madani reported that after being thrown out at the plate on a play Monday night, Kiermaier noticed that the “cheat card” full of scouting reports on Rays hitters that Alejandro Kirk keeps on his wrist — as all Jays catchers, and many throughout the league do — had fallen to the ground. Realizing what it was, he picked it up and took it back to the Rays’ dugout.

Madani added:

The Jays are pissed. As a team source told me, "if there’s one card we wouldn’t want any opponent to have, it’s that one.”

By the time I caught wind of any of this, people had already gotten most of it out of their systems, demanding bloody vengeance against Kiermaier by way of a ball to the ribs (or worse), or insisting that Charlie was derelict in his duties as manager by not trying to fight Kevin Cash the moment the Jays found out what had happened, or some such nonsense.

I don’t know man, I certainly can’t blame Kiermaier for picking up the card. I saw someone online compare it to a football player finding another team’s playbook — you can’t just leave it! Maybe the Jays should have their cards a little more secure in those wrist things? Or make sure their catchers know not to double check that they’re not on the damn field after a collision?

They certainly needed to make less of a thing of this, I think. Take the loss and move on.

Honestly, that should be easy to do. Because the thing is, this is different than a football player finding an opponent’s playbook in one pretty crucial way: we all saw it happen. The information on that card becomes a hell of a lot less valuable as soon as the Jays know an opponent has it. They’re not bound to follow the card now!

I’m not saying that it’s good for an opponent to have a bunch of proprietary information, especially when we’re talking about the dastardly Rays here. But what I am saying is: meh.

▼ Joe West

Ugh. Look, as I think I mentioned after Monday’s game, I’m really not one to go after umpires. They’re a part of the game, and they’re human, and they have a tough job. But the thing is, some of them absolutely suck ass, and Joe West is one of them.

There were some calls that definitely went the Jays’ way in this one, so this isn’t quite like Monday’s complaints about Ron Kulpa being bizarrely one-sided. But it’s not too far off, because man alive! The Jays are fighting not only the team with the best record in the American League, but also whatever demons lurk inside that horrible building. It reallllllly sucks to see them have to fight the umpires too.

And yet it certainly felt like that was the case on Tuesday. Particularly in some very big moments.

A few examples:

• This is Alek Manoah to Brett Phillips with two outs in the second. Phillips should have been down 0-2, wasn’t, and then worked a walk that pushed Zunino into scoring position. From there he’d score the game’s first run one batter later on a Lowe single. What are we doing here???

• With Vlad still on second after Bichette’s sac fly in the fifth, Teoscar Hernández came up with a chance to cash a badly needed insurance run. He’d have had an even better chance, however, if not for West’s dumbly wide zone (admittedly a theme all night) that cost him a shot at a 2-0 pitch.

• The eighth inning almost went sideways on Trevor Richards, and it started with a four-pitch walk to Joey Wendle that really should not have been. (Richards did get a gift of a strike call later in the frame against Kiermaier, who would work a walk anyway. We can still point out how this call sucks though!)

• What on earth is this ball one call with Jordan Romano facing Ji-Man Choi in the at-bat that almost sparked a Rays comeback??? C’mon man!

There were others, but I think you get my point (which you probably already agreed with anyway): Joe West is bad!

▼ The stupid Trop

It just can never be goddamn easy, can it? Burn the thing to the ground already.

Scoreboard watching

It was a good thing that the Jays won this one, because the Yankees (7-1 over Texas) and the Red Sox (6-3 over the Mets) did as well. That means things didn't change much in the AL wild card race on Tuesday, apart from Seattle beating Oakland for a second day in a row. The Mariners are now even with the A's.

Here are your AL wild card standings as of the conclusion of play on Tuesday night.

A couple things worth noting here.

First, as difficult as the Rays are to beat, they haven’t been playing their best baseball lately, while the Astros keep on rolling. Houston is now just 2.5 games back of Tampa for first place in the AL.

Those teams have played each other just three times this season so far, with Houston winning two. They’ll be playing each other this time next week at Minute Maid Park in a series that has huge implications on playoff seeding — and therefore who the winner of the wild card game will play. (Neither are great options, but if I’m the Jays I’d rather not see Tropicana Field again after Wednesday. Have I mentioned I don’t like the Trop?)

Another huge series will happen before that one goes off, as the Red Sox are due to host the Yankees over the weekend. This is good news for the Jays, who will be in Minnesota for four starting on Thursday, as it ensures that one of those two teams will lose at least twice. If they take care of business as they should against the Twins, the Jays will be in very good shape come next week. (Big if!)

Of course, they’d be in better shape yet with a win on Wednesday afternoon in their series finale against the Rays. The game starts at 3:10 PM ET, and with the Rays’ scheduled starter Michael Wacha having pitched on Tuesday night, they will instead turn to right-hander Luis Patiño.

The youngster has a ton of promise, but has had an up and down season, with his recent results leaning more toward down. He's allowed 10 runs over his last three starts, totalling 13 innings. This has bumped his ERA for the year up to 4.73. Earlier in the season he had a brief start against the Jays, lasting just 2 2/3, allowing no runs on no hits and a walk while striking out three. However, when the Jays faced him again in early July they lit him up to the tune of seven runs (five earned) on seven hits over 5 1/3 innings.

Before anyone gets too excited about the Jays' chances, however, be aware that it will be a bullpen day for them. At least theoretically. With Hyun Jin Ryu on the IL and unable to take his regular turn, the team will turn to Julian Merryweather as an "opener" at the Trop on Wednesday afternoon, though it's expected that Ross Stripling will see the bulk of the work in behind him.

Stripling hasn't quite had the same magic as he'd captured mid-season since his recent return from the IL, and in his last start against the Rays, July 10, he struggled through 3 2/3 innings, allowing four runs on four hits, three of which left the yard. He did pitch a gem against the Rays back in May though: seven innings of two-hit shutout ball with seven strikeouts and just two walks. Let's hope for some of that!

Meanwhile, the Red Sox send Chris Sale to the hill as they host Taijuan Walker and the Mets, and Taylor Hearn gets the ball for the godawful Rangers against the Yankees' Corey Kluber. And, because it now matters, the Astros will send Luis Garcia to the hill in Anaheim to face Janson Junk (who, honest to god, does kinda throw junk).

Another big day in the playoff race to come! Now let’s do this Trop thing one more time and then hopefully never speak it again.