The Rays (90-72) went to the unconventional plan of using relievers to start games in addition to traditional starters in mid-May due to injuries.
The results were about equal, as Tampa Bay went 46-38 with regular starters and 44-34 when utilizing the bullpen.
Ryne Stanek was Tampa Bay’s ”opener” for the 29th time and went two scoreless innings. Yarbrough (16-6) followed and gave up two runs and four hits over three innings to get his 14th relief win.
The Rays went 87-60 after losing 12 of their first 15 games.
Outgoing Blue Jays manager John Gibbons decided to have some fun in the finale and let 35-year-old catcher Russell Martin manage the game.
Martin ”thought about it for a couple seconds” before deciding not to be a player-manager.
Toronto announced Wednesday that Gibbons will not be back as manager next season.
”He’s one of my favorites,” Martin said. ”I’m going to miss him. He’s a special guy. He’s kind of like having a second dad.”
Over two stints totaling 11 seasons, Gibbons went 793-789 with the Blue Jays.
Toronto finished 73-89, a three-game drop from 2017.
Tampa Bay improved 10 games from last year and joined the 2012 Rays (90) and 2013 Texas Rangers (91) as the only 90-win teams since the second wild card was introduced in 2012 to miss the postseason.
Joey Wendle and Jake Bauers both had two RBIs for the Rays, who went 13-6 against Toronto. Tampa Bay has dominated the series at home, going 111-74.
Loser Sam Gaviglio (3-10) allowed five runs and six hits in 5 2/3 innings.
Despite the strong on-field showing, the Rays’ announced home attendance of 1,154,973 was their lowest since 2005 (1,141,699). Tampa Bay drew 1,253,619 last season. Sunday’s crowd was 13,313.
STAYING THE COURSE
The Rays are happy with the progress of two-way player Brendan McKay at Class A Charlotte this season and plan to continue the experiment. ”Where this ends up going I think we don’t know exactly still, but we’re really encouraged,” Tampa Bay senior vice president of baseball operations Chaim Bloom said.
Bloom said McKay, whose season ended prematurely due to an oblique injury, has been at instructional league and has gotten back ”to where he’s a healthy player.”
Rays LF Tommy Pham walked in the third to extend his on-base streak to 32 games, the longest active streak in the majors. Johnny Damon holds the team record with 39.
Blue Jays: Open the 2019 season at home against Detroit on March 28.
Rays: Host AL West champion Houston on March 28 in their 2019 opener.
John Gibbons is one of those special “baseball” guys that makes the game fun, makes it a little more interesting.
On Sunday afternoon in St. Petersburg, Fla., Gibbons’ second stay as manager of the Toronto Blue Jays comes to an end with the final game of the season against the Tampa Bay Rays, and Gibby is going out in style.
“I’m having a little fun with it,” Gibbons said Saturday. “Let him see how tough it is.”
Technically, Martin will be a player/manager, but he hasn’t played since Sept 3 as the Jays have been looking at younger players.
While the game will be an emotional one for Gibbons and the Jays, it really has some importance to the home team.
Blake Snell didn’t win his 22nd of the season Saturday night, but the Rays won the game 4-3 for their 89th victory of the season — thus giving them a shot at 90 in a year most people thought would be a washout.
They could reach 90 wins for the first time in five years.
On Saturday night, Tampa Bay notched its 50th home win.
Marco Estrada, slated to close the season and the Gibbons Era, was scratched with the sore back that has bothered him through much of the season. Sam Gaviglio will start against another Rays “opener,” likely Ryne Stanek, with several relievers following.
“The good thing is it’s nothing major,” said Estrada, a free agent at the end of the season. “It’s something the doctor feels it should be just fine. If we hit the right spot, this should be cleared away for a while. Pretty excited about it. He said, ‘Keep doing your core program, all the stretching you can, and it should help.’ I’ve stayed on it all year. Just sometimes it froze up.”
As far as his future, the 35-year-old Estrada said: “Obviously, there’s always a chance of me coming back. I’m not sure in which direction they’re going, (or) if they want to go younger. It seems to be going that way. But I’m never right about these things. So I don’t really know. But I definitely would love to hear from them again. I’m comfortable here. I do love this team.”
Snell pitched five innings and struck out 10 in a no-decision Saturday night, finishing his season at 21-5 with a 1.89 ERA — and apparently headed for the second Cy Young Award in franchise history.
He came up short Saturday in his bid to become the first pitcher since Justin Verlander in 2011 to win 10 straight starts.
“There’s not really much debate in my opinion,” said his manager, Kevin Cash.
Said Snell: “I have a good case.”
The Rays’ official Twitter account posted: Congrats to snellzilla4 on an outstanding season. We’re rooting for you.”
Toronto hitters struck out 18 times Saturday night.
Gaviglio is 3-9 with a 5.19 ERA this season and 0-3 in his last five starts. He is 0-2 with a 5.27 ERA in three starts versus the Rays this season, dropping him to 1-2 with a 4.34 ERA in four career starts against Tampa Bay.
Cash said before Saturday’s game that Matt Duffy and Ji-Man Choi likely would not play because of injuries.
Also before the game, Rays right-hander Andrew Kittredge learned he had been suspended for three games and fined for throwing behind Austin Romine on Thursday. That led to CC Sabathia plunking Jesus Sucre with Sabathia suspended for five games.
Kittredge said he might appeal, but both sentences would be served next season.
“I understand, I do, I get it,” Cash said. “I had some really good conversations with MLB, (chief baseball officer) Joe Torre and (senior vice president, baseball operations) Peter Woodfork. And you know what? Kitt, from my understanding, will go through the appeals process and kind of let it be heard, his viewpoint. And then go from there.”
Martin, who has been a catcher, third baseman, shortstop and outfielder during his time in Toronto, shifted into more of a mentor role this season — helping rookie catchers Danny Jansen and Reese McGuire. Martin, a four-time All-Star, hasn’t played since Sept. 3.
The Blue Jays will miss the playoffs for the second consecutive season after reaching the American League Championship Series in 2015 and 2016.
With the Blue Jays long-since eliminated from this year’s postseason, manager John Gibbons is ready to let the team cut loose for their last game of 2018. When the team faces off against the Rays on Sunday, veteran catcher Russell Martin will take the reins as the club’s unofficial manager. Per MLB.com’s Gregor Chisholm, the title transfer is an informal one: Gibbons will still assume responsibility for the outcome of the game and add the win (or loss) to his own record, though Martin will be tasked with all in-game decisions.
It’s been a slow month for Martin, who was all but erased from the lineup as the Blue Jays focused on developing their cadre of young backstops this September. While the 35-year-old was originally promised a reduced role behind Danny Jansen, Reese McGuire, and Luke Maile, he hasn’t seen a single start behind the dish since August 29 and hasn’t played at all since September 3, when he appeared at third base in lieu of Yangervis Solarte and Aledmys Diaz. He’ll finish the year with a career-worst .194/.338/.325 batting line, 10 home runs, and 0.5 fWAR through 352 plate appearances.
Whether or not Martin has given any thought to a future in managing is unclear, though he still has another year left on his contract with the team (and another $20 million to collect as well). Gibbons told reporters that the catcher would make an “ideal” manager someday, but Sunday’s game won’t serve as any kind of audition on that front. Chisholm adds that it’s just a “quirky little fun thing” the skipper has decided to do and, to that end, it promises to be a fitting end to a difficult year for Martin.