The Toronto Blue Jays turned to their All-Star pitcher Saturday to stop their three-game losing skid.
The Blue Jays will look to salvage a split of their four-game series against Tampa Bay Rays on Sunday afternoon in St. Petersburg, Fla.
But Saturday belonged to 6-foot-6, 285-pound starting pitcher Alek Manoah, who turned in a performance as enormous as his frame.
Manoah (15-7) used a season-high 113 pitches to shut down the Rays over seven scoreless innings. The right-hander scattered four hits and struck out eight to improve to 3-0 in five September starts.
"He's got a good feel for what he wants to do," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "He can run a fastball up, he can sink a fastball. He's got a couple different shapes to his breaking ball. I don't think any hitter sees the same look consistently."
Whit Merrifield provided all of Toronto's runs with a three-run homer in the seventh inning off left-hander Brooks Raley.
Merrifield is 5-for-11 with three homers, two doubles and six RBIs in this series.
Toronto (85-67) regained the No. 1 spot in the America League wild-card race by one game over Tampa Bay (84-68), who hold the tiebreaker between the teams.
The Blue Jays are also 2-5 against the Seattle Mariners -- another possible tiebreaker scenario interim manager John Schneider's club would lose.
Third baseman Matt Chapman said the postseason pressure already is present and that the team has competed as if each outing is a playoff one.
"There's no time to dissect and overanalyze everything," Chapman said. "Show up, prepare to win and do everything we can to win a ballgame.
"At the end of the day, this is playoff baseball every day now. It's win or go home. For us, it's show up tomorrow and be ready to rock."
The club is looking for right-hander Ross Stripling (8-4, 3.21 ERA) to get back on track Sunday.
In his previous start in Philadelphia Tuesday, Stripling was the beneficiary of a 7-1 lead from his teammates but lasted only four innings. He yielded five runs on nine hits in a no-decision.
Stripling is 1-3 with a 3.63 ERA in nine career appearances (four starts) against Tampa Bay.
In Tuesday's loss to Houston, standout Rays hurler Shane McClanahan grimaced and shook his head following a pitch in the fifth inning.
Cash decided to remove him, but the manager and the left-hander both said on Wednesday there was no lingering injury.
On Sunday, McClanahan (12-6, 2.36) will make his 27th start as he and his teammates attempt to win the series.
In two starts since returning from the 15-day injured list due to shoulder impingement, the 25-year-old McClanahan is 1-1 with a 5.00 ERA. He scattered three hits over five scoreless innings in an 11-0 win over Toronto on Sept. 15.
McClanahan is 2-1 with a 2.05 ERA in five career starts against Toronto. He has notched 29 strikeouts in 26 1/3 innings and allowed just a .205 batting average.
--Field Level Media