TORONTO — On an offensive tear for most of the month, the scorching Toronto offence was finally cooled Tuesday night.
Ji-Man Choi and Brandon Lowe hit solo homers and five Tampa Bay pitchers combined on a three-hit shutout as the Rays blanked the Blue Jays 2-0 to end their four-game winning streak. Rays starter Drew Rasmussen (3-1) threw five solid innings ahead of a relief crew that allowed just one hit.
"Their pitching did a great job to stop a hot offence," said Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo.
The Blue Jays scored a whopping 52 runs over their streak, including an 8-1 rout of Tampa Bay in the series opener a night earlier at Rogers Centre. But the AL East-leading Rays rebounded nicely and didn't let the Blue Jays put a rally together.
Andrew Kittredge worked a 1-2-3 ninth for his seventh save. It was Toronto's second loss in its last 14 games.
"That's why these two clubs are playing well, (it's) because of pitching and defence," Montoyo said.
Blue Jays starter Jose Berrios (11-8) was the hard-luck loser, giving up four hits and one earned run over seven innings.
He didn't return for the eighth in a precautionary move. Berrios felt some abdominal tightness in his left side, Montoyo said, adding there were no plans for imaging work.
Toronto (81-64) entered play holding the first American League wild-card spot, one game up on the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. The AL East Division-leading Rays (90-55), meanwhile, reached the 90-win plateau for the eighth time in 14 seasons.
Choi's 10th homer of the season -- a second-inning blast off the facing of the stadium's 200 level -- gave Tampa an early lead. Some nice Toronto defence prevented a second run from coming across in the frame.
With Randy Arozarena on third base with two out, shortstop Bo Bichette made a diving stab on a hard grounder and his quick release on the throw helped get Manuel Margot by a half-step.
Margot offered some defence of his own in the third inning with a diving catch in short centre field on Reese McGuire's sinking liner.
The Blue Jays threatened in the fourth after George Springer led off with a double and Marcus Semien walked. Rasmussen responded by getting Toronto's 3-4-5 hitters -- Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bichette and Teoscar Hernandez -- in order.
Lowe provided an insurance run in the eighth inning with his 34th homer of the season. He turned on a first-pitch slider from southpaw reliever Tim Mayza.
Rasmussen allowed two hits and a walk and had three strikeouts. Pete Fairbanks, JT Chargois, David Robertson and Kittredge worked an inning apiece for the Rays, who earned their second victory in six games.
"We smoked so many balls tonight but their defence was just right where they needed to be," said McGuire. "So credit to them for positioning."
Tampa Bay outhit Toronto 6-3 and neither team made an error. The rubber match in the three-game series is set for Wednesday afternoon.
Notes: Announced attendance was 13,103. ... The retractable roof was closed in the eighth inning. ... The game was completed in a tidy two hours 20 minutes. ... Shortstop Bo Bichette was named Toronto's nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award. ... Toronto left-hander Robbie Ray (11-5, 2.69 ERA) is scheduled to start the series finale against right-hander Michael Wacha (3-4, 5.37). ... The Blue Jays have an off-day Thursday before closing their six-game homestand with a weekend series against the Minnesota Twins.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 14, 2021.
Follow @GregoryStrongCP on Twitter.
Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press