Rays pitcher Alexander flirts with perfect game

TORONTO – Chris Bassitt isn’t ready to hit the panic button on the Toronto Blue Jays season, but he’s getting there.

Starting pitcher Tyler Alexander flirted with a perfect game for more than seven innings and the Tampa Bay Rays held off Toronto 4-3 on Friday as the Blue Jays made mistakes in the field and struggled at the plate.

A visibly frustrated Bassitt said there’s lots of baseball to still be played but his team needs to start asking some hard questions.

“It’s a long season. I think it’s not really the so-called time to worry,” said Bassit (3-6), who allowed three runs over 5 2/3 innings. “There’s always a point in the season where you look at it and you’re like ‘we’ve got to make changes,’ whatever it may be.

“I’m not saying that right now is the time to do that. We’ve just got to play better.”

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Alexander (2-2) didn’t allow a baserunner through 7 1/3 innings, but ultimately surrendered three runs on three hits and struck out four. Relievers Manuel Rodriguez and Pete Fairbanks pitched scoreless ball the rest of the way.

If Alexander had kept any runners off the basepaths it would have been the 25th perfect game in Major League Baseball’s history.

“I was very aware of what I was doing,” said Alexander. “I was just trying not to over-try, I guess. Just trying to stay within myself.”

Richie Palacios hit a two-run homer in the sixth as Tampa Bay (24-22) won its third straight. Randy Arozarena’s clever base running and Jonny DeLuca’s RBI single provided the rest of the offence.

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Davis Schneider’s two-run blast in the eighth broke up Alexander’s shutout as Toronto (19-24) mounted a comeback. Pinch-hitter Cavan Biggio added an RBI single in the same inning.

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Relievers Zach Pop of Brampton, Ont., Genesis Cabrera, Erik Swanson, and Nate Pearson followed Bassitt to the mound.

It’s a superstition in baseball to never mention when your pitcher is in the midst of a shutout, a no-hitter, or a perfect game.

Toronto manager John Schneider said it was the opposite in his team’s dugout during Alexander’s commanding performance.

“Baseball players and coaches and managers are all a little ‘stitious. We were talking about it in the third, kind of jokingly,” John Schneider said. “You joke about it a little bit. I’m glad that we broke through there in the eighth.”

Bassitt reached a career milestone in the third when Rays catcher Ben Rortvedt was assessed a third strike for a batter pitch timer violation.

It was the 900th strikeout of Bassitt’s career. He struck out five on Friday to finish the game at 902 and sit at 688th on the all-time list.

Arozarena hit a one-out double in the sixth and in the next at bat, Jonathan Aranda grounded out to second baseman Isiah Kiner-Falefa.

While Toronto first baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr. was focused on catching Kiner-Falefa’s throw, Arozarena sprinted to third. Guerrero threw the ball wide as he tried to get Arozarena out at third, allowing the Rays left-fielder to score as the ball bounced into foul territory.

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“Randy’s a savvy baserunner and Vlad’s got a really good arm that he trusts,” said John Schneider, who had yet to watch a replay of the throw. “I’ll check it out, but it looks like it sailed a little bit.”

Isaac Paredes drew a walk in the next at bat and then Palacios smashed his fourth home run of his season for a 3-0 Tampa lead. Palacios connected on a 72.7 m.p.h. sweeper, sending it 373 feet to right field to end Bassitt’s night.

“I’ve just got to execute pitches,” said Bassitt.

DeLuca tacked another run on to the Rays’ lead with an RBI single in the seventh. His base hit drove in Rortvedt.

Danny Jansen broke up Alexander’s perfect game with a single to shallow right field and then two pitches later — Alexander’s 99th of the game — Schneider hit his fifth home run of the season to cut the Rays’ lead to two runs.

“As soon as I saw it in the air, I knew that was going to be in an area where nobody was,” said Alexander of Jansen’s hit.

Biggio, pinch hitting for third baseman Ernie Clement, drove in another run three batters later with a single that scored Daulton Varsho from second.

George Springer grounded into a double play to end the inning but the damage was done, with Alexander chased from the game and Tampa holding only a 4-3 lead.

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ON DECK — Kevin Gausman (2-3) will take the mound Saturday afternoon as the Blue Jays continue their series with Tampa Bay. Zach Eflin (3-4) is scheduled for the Rays.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 17, 2024.

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