TORONTO – Alek Manoah wants to start throwing punches instead of wearing them.
Manoah took the loss as the Toronto Blue Jays dropped an 8-1 decision to Tampa Bay on Sunday as the Rays avoided a three-game sweep. Manoah gave up seven over those runs on nine hits over 4 2/3 innings although he struck out five.
After the game the 25-year-old Manoah put the loss in perspective, saying life can been harder than getting shelled on the mound.
“I’ve had my butt kicked plenty of times, so getting my butt kicked on a baseball field is a lot worse than the other times I’ve gotten my butt kicked,” he said. “So I’m here right now, and I’m going to keep fighting my way out.
“That’s all I know how to do and that’s what this team needs from me so that’s what I’m going to do.”
Manoah’s earned-run average ballooned to 6.98 after the loss. That’s a far cry from last year’s all-star season when he had a 2.23 ERA and finished third in Cy Young voting as the American League’s best pitcher.
“I’m not going back to the drawing board, I felt really good out there,” said Manoah. “Fastball velocity was pretty good. I felt like some of my pitches were pretty sharp.
“Just gotta continue to go out there and give this team a chance and I didn’t do that. today so I gotta go out there and compete.”
Christian Bethancourt’s three-run homer led Tampa Bay (14-2), which has a four-game lead over the Blue Jays and New York Yankees in the American League East standings. Josh Lowe drove in three runs with a single and a double and Vidal Brujan added an RBI single in the ninth.
Shane McClanahan (4-0) struck out six and allowed just one run over six innings. Rays relievers Colin Poche, Garrett Cleavinger and Jason Adam did not allow a run.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. had an RBI single in the first inning as Toronto (10-6) came up short on its bid to sweep the Rays. Zach Pop of Brampton, Ont., Tim Mayza, Trevor Richards and Anthony Bass came on in relief, with only Bass surrendering a run.
The Blue Jays won both three-game series in its first homestand of the season, leaving Rogers Centre with a 4-2 record.
Manoah struggled with his command from the very first pitch of the afternoon, hitting Rays leadoff hitter Yandy Diaz. He then walked Brandon Lowe, gave up a single to Harold Ramirez and a walk to Wander Franco for the Rays’ first run of the game.
He recovered with back-to-back strikeouts before Josh Lowe singled to to score Brandon Lowe and Ramirez for a 3-0 lead.
“I don’t think it’s so much mechanics, there’s just his command, that kind of comes and goes,” said Toronto manager John Schneider. “But a 35-pitch first inning, and hit a guy, you walk a couple, almost skated out of it.
“I don’t think it’s mechanics. I think it’s just him being in the zone a little bit more.”
Guerrero replied for Toronto in the bottom of the inning, hitting a line drive to bring home George Springer to the delight of the Rogers Centre crowd of 39,179.
Manoah settled in after that, pitching three scoreless innings, including back-to-back strikeouts in the fifth. But then the burly right-hander started to unravel again, issuing a two-out walk to Taylor Walls, who scored when Josh Lowe hit a double in the next at bat.
“Manoah is such a good pitcher,” said Rays manager Kevin Cash. “When you get him out of sync a little bit, you want to be able to capitalize.
“We wanted to get greedy there and not just get one.”
Bethancourt followed that up with his third home run of the season, scoring Josh Lowe and Brujan for a 7-1 Tampa lead. Manoah faced one more hitter before Pop came on in relief.
Toronto’s bullpen didn’t allow any more runs until the ninth inning when Brujan’s single gave Walls ample time to run home.
Adam made a highlight-reel play to end the game, catching a liner from Blue Jays centre-fielder Kevin Kiermaier then throwing to second to tag out Santiago Espinal for the surprise double play.
Breanne Wilson-Bennett, a forward with the Premier Hockey Federation’s Toronto Six, threw out the ceremonial first pitch. She was accompanied by the Isobel Cup, the PHF’s championship, which Toronto won March 29 with a 4-3 overtime victory against the Minnesota Whitecaps.
The Blue Jays hit the road, travelling to Houston for a three-game set.
Kevin Gausman (1-1) will get the start for Toronto and the Astros will counter with Cristian Javier (1-0).