Wily Joe Maddon, the Tampa Bay Rays manager, would never resort to any gamesmanship in order to try to give his flatlining team a bit of an edge.
Naaah, not Joe.
With two out in the bottom of the third inning and Toronto rookie pitcher Marcus Stroman continuing to have his way his way with the Tampa hitters – allowing just one hit up until that point – it didn’t take long for Maddon to poke his head out of the Rays dugout when a lightning strike took out a bank of lights down the third base line.
A second bank behind home plate soon followed as a fierce storm continued to rage outside of Tropicana Field on Wednesday night, with loud claps of thunder causing players to gaze upward with furrowed brows.
The creaky old Trop still had that peering-inside-an-aquarium, dull yellowish hue to it, but it seemed totally playable. But Maddon was still concerned how the game’s integrity might be affected by the minor power outage.
The umpires agreed and both teams retired to their dugout for a delay that amounted to 30 minutes.
“Obviously they’re going to want to make sure they have as much light as possible,” Stroman would say later, adding that he was surprised by the delay. “It’s the home team so it’s nothing you can argue with.”
Stroman returned to the mound and fired one pitch to get Tampa’s Kevin Kiermaier to ground out for the third out and Stroman was quickly back in stride and the Blue Jays would go on to record a convincing 7-4 win over the Rays for their fourth straight victory.
But the delay had an affect on Stroman as the game wore on. By the sixth inning, where he surrendered two of the Tampa runs that narrowed the Toronto lead to 6-2, he was stretching this way and that on the mound trying to combat stiffness that was setting in.
Even though Stroman was only at 76 pitches, Toronto manager John Gibbons opted to make it an early night for his young gun and let the bullpen handle matters for the rest of the way after the sixth.
“I think with that delay it might have affected him,” Gibbons said. “He was doing a lot of stretching out there on the mound like he was stiff. He made the comment he was a little bit stiff. Better off to get him out of there even when his pitch count was so low.”
Gibbons tactics proved successful as the Blue Jays, despite a surge by the Rays in the eighth where they touched Toronto reliever Dustin McGowan up for two runs, were able to hang on for the win.
Combined with Tuesday’s victory in the opener, the Blue Jays have guaranteed themselves of their first series victory at Tropicana since April of 2007 when Toronto catcher Dioner Navarro was behind the plate for the Rays.
“For one series anyways we got the monkey off our back,” Gibbons said. “Now we got to go out there and win that one [on Thursday], come up with a great series.
“You begin to wonder when the lights go out, this place is haunted. But another well played game all around, that’s the bottom line. We’re playing good baseball right now.”
Stroman got the win to improve to 9-5 on the year, allowing two of the Tampa runs off seven hits through six innings.
Navarro and Edwin Encarnacion both stroked home runs – Encarnacion’s a two-run shot in the three-run Toronto fifth where the Blue Jays broke things open.
More importantly, the win continued Toronto’s desperate late-season surge to try to snag one of the American League wildcard playoff spots.
Despite the recent upswing, the Blue Jays (71-67) remain in sixth place overall among teams vying for a postseason berth, 4.5 games back of the second wildcard spot currently occupied by the Detroit Tigers.
With 24 games left in the regular-season schedule, that’s a lot of ground to have to make up.
“We got a nice, 20-something games left, we’re right there in the hunt,” Navarro said optimistically. “We just got to keep grinding.”