• Baseball

Yusei Kikuchi Pulled after Allowing Three Runs over Four Innings; Blue Jays Beat Rays 9-5

AP Photo/Scott Audette
Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher Yusei Kikuchi throws to a Tampa Bay Rays batter during the first inning of a baseball game Sunday, Sept. 24, 2023, in St. Petersburg, Fla.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — George Springer hit an inside-the-park, three-run homer, made a diving catch and threw out a runner, helping the Toronto Blue Jays beat the Tampa Bay Rays 9-5 on Sunday to take two of three in a series of potential playoff opponents.

“He kind of just took the game over for about 25 minutes,” Toronto manager John Schneider said. “George this time of year is a good guy to have on your team.”

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. homered twice, making an impressive bat flip after the second, and Bo Bichette also went deep for the Blue Jays. Toronto extended its lead for the second AL wild card to two games over Houston and 2 1/2 games ahead of Seattle.

Toronto also won two of three at the New York Yankees during a six-game trip that followed a three-game sweep over Boston at home.

“Awesome road trip,” Schneider said.

Isaac Paredes hit his 30th homer for Tampa Bay, which has clinched at the least the AL’s top wild card and are 2 1/2 games behind AL East-leading Baltimore, which has the tiebreaker. The Rays have five games remaining.

Rays first baseman Yandy Díaz left in the third with right hamstring tightness. Díaz is second in the AL with .328 batting average.

“I think he’s fine, going to be fine,” Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash said. “Sore. Way more precautionary getting him out of the game.”

Whit Merrifield had a tying, two-run single before Springer put the Blue Jays up 5-2 in the second on his homer off Taj Bradley (5-8). Center fielder Manuel Margot failed in his attempt at a leaping catch at the wall. The ball ricocheted off the wall and bounced along the warning track to the 404-foot sign in center. Springer slid into the plate headfirst well before a relay arrived.

Springer grabbed Curtis Mead’s drive off the right-field wall in the third and made a strong throw on the fly to Bichette, throwing out Mead trying to stretch the hit to a double. Harold Ramirez went to third on the play and Springer then sprinted toward the right-field line to make a sprawling catch on Paredes for the inning’s second out, saving a run.

Bradley retired 10 in a row after Springer’s homer before Guerrero Jr. connected on a homer put Toronto ahead 6-3 in the sixth. The rookie allowed six runs and seven hits in a career-high seven innings.

Paredes cut the Rays’ deficit to 6-5 on a two-run drive in the seventh that gave him 94 RBIs.

Bichette hit his 20th homer and Guerrero got his 26th long ball in the ninth as Toronto grabbed a 9-5 lead.

Twenty-year old rookie Junior Caminero drove in his first run on a 109.2 mph single to left in the Rays’ two-run first.

Toronto starter Yusei Kikuchi was pulled after allowing three runs and nine hits over four innings. Trevor Richards (2-1) worked two scoreless innings for the win.

Kikuchi said through a translator that may have been tipping his pitches early on.

AP Photo/Scott Audette
Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher Yusei Kikuchi throws to a Tampa Bay Rays batter during the fourth inning of a baseball game Sunday, Sept. 24, 2023, in St. Petersburg, Fla.