ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – The agua Charlie Montoyo insisted was under the bridge between the Toronto Blue Jays and Tampa Bay Rays clearly wasn’t when a Ryan Borucki fastball hit Kevin Kiermaier right in the numbers.
And it definitely won’t be now that some vengeance was exacted on the speedy centre-fielder, who added another layer of intrigue to the burgeoning rivalry between the teams by grabbing a data card jarred loose from Alejandro Kirk’s wristband a couple days earlier.
“I hope we play those guys (in the post-season),” Kiermaier said in the home dugout after a 7-1 victory Wednesday clinched a post-season berth for the Rays. “I really do. I hope we play them.”
When asked why, Kiermaier said he preferred to keep his comments short, but then added, “the motivation is there. That's all that needs to be said.”
The eighth-inning incident from Wednesday’s beatdown of the Blue Jays added a new layer of spice to the possibility of a post-season rematch between the clubs (the Rays knocked them out last year), after 7.5 innings lacking the usual drama and tension inherent to their meetings.
Kiermaier added a creative twist on the Rays’ ongoing torment of the Blue Jays on Monday when, after Kirk tagged him out at home to end the sixth inning, he looked down, saw a data card in the dirt, picked it up and took it back to the Rays dugout. Once there, he passed it on to field co-ordinator Paul Hoover.
“Just my little opinion here, I thought he should have left it there,” said Borucki, and he was far from alone on the Blue Jays with that outlook.
Nothing happened Tuesday, when the Blue Jays won a tight game 4-2 and Kiermaier said he stopped expecting retribution after it didn’t come in his first at-bat that day.
But once the Rays lit up Ross Stripling, pitching as the bulk reliever, for five runs in a six-run third and the offence was held down afterwards, Borucki’s first pitch of the eighth seemed designed to send a message, claims that “the ball slipped out of my hand” aside.
“I missed up and in and I accidentally hit him,” added Borucki. “They can think what they want over there in their locker-room. But it is what it is. That's really all I got.”
There was no doubt in Kiermaier’s mind – “Oh yeah, it was intentional,” he said – and the same sentiment was echoed by teammate Brandon Lowe, who called it “bush league,” and Rays manager Kevin Cash, who on Wednesday apologized to Montoyo, Blue Jays pitching coach Pete Walker and GM Ross Atkins over the card incident.
Those apologies prompted Montoyo to say Tuesday night that the matter was “agua under the bridge,” only it very much wasn’t.
“It pretty much almost went behind me,” said Kiermaier. “I thought it was a weak move to be quite honest. But it is what it is. It's over. It didn't hurt by any means. So I don't care.”
Cash, who argued to crew chief Joe West that Borucki should be ejected (he was, as was Walker, who charged out to argue the decision), said he was “disappointed,” with how things played out.
“I thought there was a better way to handle it, I was hoping it was over. It wasn't,” he said. “That's all I’ll say on it.”
Montoyo, who is still close with Cash after serving as his bench coach before joining the Blue Jays, said he understood how things looked, but insisted there was no intent. He pointed to Walker’s reaction as proof the Blue Jays weren’t throwing at Kiermaier, “because we didn't want to use another pitcher. That's why Pete was so upset.”
There may be fallout, with discipline a possibility, but after watching their archnemesis secure a playoff berth, they need to ensure they book their own ticket.
Work remains, but the math is still fairly favourable for the Blue Jays (85-67), who fell even with the New York Yankees (85-67) for the second wild card and dropped two games back of the Boston Red Sox (87-65) for the first, pending Wednesday night’s action. The Yankees were scheduled to host Texas, the Red Sox home to the Mets.
With 10 games left, beginning with a four-game set at the Minnesota Twins opening Thursday, a 6-4 run would push them to 91 wins, likely enough to get them into the playoffs. After the Twins, the Blue Jays have three-game series at home versus the Yankees and Baltimore Orioles, so the opportunity for 7-3 or even better is certainly there, too.
A big weekend versus the Twins while the Red Sox and Yankees play three in New York this weekend is a pivotal chance to gain ground before Boston closes out against Baltimore and Washington. The Yankees finish against the Rays after playing Boston and Toronto.
Nothing should be taken for granted, of course, but the Blue Jays are set up fairly well, even after their bullpen game Wednesday went terribly awry, allowing the Rays to finish the season series 11-8 and inch closer to a second straight American League East title.
"We have our eyes on something else,” said Lowe. “We want to go out there and we'll celebrate when we do what we want to do.”
The rout was a rare aberration, only the sixth time in 19 meetings a game was decided by four or more runs. In contrast, 10 contests were settled by two runs or less, yet another reason why a division series meeting would be so interesting.
Should the Blue Jays successfully clinch a wild-card berth and then win that game to reach the division series, the Rays are likely to be waiting for them there.
“We play good games, except today of course," said Montoyo. "Our first couple of guys struggled and we got in a hole pretty quick. But every game we play them and in the playoffs, they've all been good games.”
There’s a new dynamic to them, now, making an October rematch all the more tantalizing.