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Second baseman Devon Travis of the Toronto Blue Jays gets the force out at second base on Mallex Smith of the Tampa Bay Rays during the fifth inning of a game on April 8, 2017 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Brian Blanco/Getty Images)
Second baseman Devon Travis of the Toronto Blue Jays gets the force out at second base on Mallex Smith of the Tampa Bay Rays during the fifth inning of a game on April 8, 2017 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Brian Blanco/Getty Images)

Rays ground Blue Jays 3-2 in 11 innings after strong outing by Aaron Sanchez Add to ...

It was a game featuring two of the rising young pitching talents in the American League – Aaron Sanchez of the Toronto Blue Jays and Chris Archer of the Tampa Bay Rays.

The two starters went at it, hammer and tong, deep into the game, a delight if you like your baseball long on pitching and short on scoring.

And somehow it seemed fitting that neither pitcher would factor into the decision, having already departed by the time this one wound down on Saturday night at Tropicana Field, heads held high for jobs well done.

In the end, it was the Rays who finally prevailed, earning a 3-2 win in 11 innings.

And wouldn’t you know it, it was Casey Lawrence, just called up from Triple-A Buffalo earlier in the day to help fortify Toronto’s tired bullpen, who found himself on the bump in the game’s most crucial moment.

Entering in the bottom of the 11th, it didn’t start well for Lawrence, with Mallex Smith clubbing a lead-off double to right field for the Rays.

Toronto manager John Gibbons then went to work, ordering back-to-back intentional walks to load the bases, which set up a forceout at home plate if it came to that.

Lawrence got a big strikeout off Evan Longoria, but the game was finally won in inglorious fashion when he walked Brad Miller to force in the winning run.

After the Blue Jays pretty much burned through their bullpen in Friday’s 10-8 victory by the Rays, the lengthy work by Sanchez was appreciated by Gibbons.

Gibbons joked before the game that he might have to forfeit if Sanchez somehow had to be taken out early.

Sanchez wound up pitching seven solid innings, allowing just one Tampa Bay run off four hits while striking out six. Archer went 7.2 innings, allowing two earned runs off five Toronto hits while striking out eight.

Although Sanchez is being utilized at the back end of the five-man Toronto rotation to start the season, it is by no means indicative of his value to the Blue Jays.

By delaying his first start, the Blue Jays are just trying to monitor his workload for a coming season that is anticipated to be long and arduous.

Whatever his placing in the rotation, Sanchez is considered the burgeoning ace of the staff, coming off a season where he led the American League with a 3.00 earned run average at the age of 23. The last pitcher to lead his league in ERA at that tender age was Clayton Kershaw back in 2011 with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Sanchez is a year older now and still developing his pitching repertoire – the Blue Jays are hoping to see a better changeup from him this season. But the sky is obviously the limit for a young man whose .882 win percentage off a 15-2 campaign last year was highest in the game.

As far as pitching coach Pete Walker is concerned, all Sanchez needs to do this season is stay the course.

“I don’t think he really needs to do anything more than he did last year,” Walker said. “I think that can be an issue sometimes, when you do really well, you have some success, and all of a sudden you want to take it to the next level.

“He led the American League in ERA so, I mean, what really more does he need to do from that standpoint?”

Sanchez was matched up against Archer, a fine young pitcher in his own right.

The two foes threw up zeros across the board over the first two innings before Sanchez blinked first in the third, surrendering an infield single to Derek Norris, a come-backer that deflected off the pitcher’s glove.

Archer continued to befuddle the Blue Jays with a perfect game into the fifth inning, where it was broken up by Kendrys Morales, who singled sharply to right leading off.

Sanchez found trouble in the fifth, with runners at first and third with just one out.

Sanchez tried to sneak a curve past Corey Dickerson, but the batter took it straight up the middle into centre and scored Derek Norris from third to give the Rays a 1-0 lead.

The Blue Jays drew even in the seventh, when Archer walked Jose Bautista and Josh Donaldson, the first two batters he faced in the inning.

Archer recovered to get Morales to hit into a double play, which moved Bautista to third base.

Bautista would then score on a seeing-eye ground ball by Troy Tulowitzki that found a hole through the left side, knotting the score at 1-1.

After a slow start to the season, the Toronto shortstop’s offence is rounding into shape. The run batted in was his fifth in the last two games, during which he has tallied three hits.

Donaldson grounded through the middle off Archer in the eighth inning to score Russell Martin from third, providing Toronto with its first lead at 2-1.

But the Rays, with Joe Biagini now on the mound for the Blue Jays, responded in their half of the frame, tying it up on a single by Steven Souza Jr. that brought home Evan Longoria from second.

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