Tropicana Field is not always kind to visiting ball clubs. The Blue Jays learned the hard way on Tuesday night.
And it’s not just the 34-19 Tampa Bay Rays making things tough.
The outdated stadium, with its baseball-coloured dome that gets shadowy at night and its unique catwalks that beget their own set of ground rules, can pose a problem for players on high fly balls.
A misread by Randal Grichuk in the third inning cost the Jays in Tuesday night’s 3-1 loss to the Rays. Toronto’s right-fielder, playing just his 10th career game at Tropicana Field, was making a lackadaisical run toward a fly out by Tampa Bay designated hitter Avisail Garcia when he lost track of the baseball in the roof, letting it drop about 30 feet behind him. Garcia, who seem to expect Grichuk would make the catch, saw the ball land and turned on the jets as he rounded first base. What could have been an easy out became a inside-the-park home run to give Tampa Bay a 2-0 lead.
It was a damaging mistake on a night when Toronto’s offence once again struggled to string hits together, their lone run cashed in on a ninth-inning sacrifice fly by Brandon Drury.
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Second coming: Clayton Richard was reportedly on a 70 to 75 pitch count heading into his second start for Toronto but the left-hander, who is still building up his arm after missing almost two months with a knee injury, tossed 81 pitches over four innings. He struggled with command at times, particular in a 32-pitch first inning when he walked Pham and shortstop Willy Adames to load the bases after Garcia started Tampa Bay’s charge with a leadoff single.
But Richard limited the damage to one run — a sacrifice fly by catcher Travis d’Arnaud — and bounced back with a nine-pitch second frame. The 35-year-old gave up just two runs on three hits, walking four batters and proving adept at getting out of more than one jam, helping himself by picking off Ji-Man Choi at first in the fourth.
More moves: Toronto selected lefty reliever Justin Shafer’s contract on Tuesday, designating recently claimed reliever Zac Rosscup for assignment in a corresponding move. Shafer, who posted a 0.96 ERA in 15 relief appearance for Triple-A Buffalo, pounded the strike zone with fastballs after he took the ball from Richard for 1 1/3 clean innings.
Digging the long ball: Rays right-fielder Austin Meadows’ solo home run in the seventh off lefty Thomas Pannone, who struck out five batters in 2 2/3 innings, was his third homer in as many games and fourth in five games against Toronto this season.
Out of knocks: Pham’s 13-game hit streak, the longest active streak in baseball, came to an end in an 0-for-2 night. Pham hit .321 during his streak, with three homers and eight RBIs.
Montreal’s calling: The crowd of 5,786 at Tropicana Field on Tuesday night was the smallest attendance ever recorded for a Rays game. The previous low was 6,509 on Sept. 5, 2017 when a hurricane was in the forecast.
In the sick bay: Jays second baseman Cavan Biggio was scratched from the lineup and sent back to the hotel after coming down with the bug that is going around Toronto’s clubhouse, but Justin Smoak returned to action after recovering from a similar illness and went 2-for-4, his third two-hit night in the last six games … Left-handed starter Ryan Borucki, who has been rehabbing in Florida since the start of the season because of elbow soreness, joined his teammates in the dugout on Tuesday. He is scheduled to throw a 20-pitch bullpen on Friday and see how the elbow responds from there, according to reporters in St. Petersburg … In Buffalo, Blue Jays prospect Sean Reid-Foley was removed from his start after just four innings with what the Bisons are tentatively calling a strained back. He will be reevaluated Wednesday.
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Up next: Jays rookie Trent Thornton has his work cut out for him Wednesday as he goes up against reigning American League Cy Young winner Blake Snell with Toronto looking to avoid the sweep.
Laura Armstrong is a sports reporter based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @lauraarmy