ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Rays keep winning — and drawing sparse crowds at home.
Austin Meadows homered for the third straight game and five Tampa Bay relievers combined to throw a six-hitter and beat struggling AL East rival Toronto 3-1 on Tuesday night.
The second-place Rays have won fourth straight, improving to a season-best 14 games over .500 before an announced crowd of just 5,786 — smallest ever for a Rays home game at Tropicana Field.
“I noticed it during the anthem, and I was like: ‘Oh it’s still early, maybe people will still file in,’” opener Ryne Stanek said after Tampa Bay’s sixth win in seven games moved them within one game of the division-leading New York Yankees.
“It’s tough, especially when we’re playing well and we’re playing a fun brand of baseball that’s fun to watch,” Stanek added. “We don’t play boring baseball. We don’t play sloppy.”
The Rays, who routinely rank at or near the bottom of the major leagues in attendance, began the night averaging an AL-worst 14,578 per game.
There have been only two smaller crowds for big league games played in the domed stadium — both in 2017, when Hurricane Harvey forced relocation of a Rangers-Astros series from Houston and attracted 3,485 on Aug. 29, 6,123 on Aug. 30 and 3,385 on Aug. 31.
Meadows hit his 12th homer of the season, a solo shot to right field off reliever Thomas Pannone in the seventh inning. He also homered Sunday at Cleveland, as well as Monday during an 8-3 victory over Toronto and has nine hits and seven RBIs in the past three games.
Avisail Garcia had an inside-the-park homer off Clayton Richard (0-1) in the third and also scored on a first-inning sacrifice fly.
Meanwhile, the Rays bullpen — beginning with opener Ryne Stanek — limited the Blue Jays to four singles and a pair of doubles.
Ryan Yarbrough (4-1) pitched 3 2/3 innings for the win, working out of a jam after Justin Smoak singled and Rowdy Tellez doubled to begin the Toronto fourth. Chaz Roe, Emilio Pagan and Diego Castillo, who yielded two hits and Brandon Drury’s sacrifice fly in the ninth inning, finished up.
The Blue Jays have dropped six of seven and fell to 0-8-1 in their series against Tampa Bay, dating to August 2017.
The Rays used an opener for the 17th time this season. Stanek has made 15 of those starts, holding opponents scoreless in 13 of those outings.
Yarbrough, meanwhile, continued to prosper in what’s become his customary role of following an opener. The 27-year-old left-hander led major league rookies with 16 victories last season, 14 of them as a reliever.
Richard, acquired from San Diego in an offseason trade, made his second start for Toronto after beginning the season on the injured list (right knee). He allowed two runs, three hits and four walks over four innings — the biggest blow Garcia’s routine fly that dropped behind right fielder Randal Grichuk and rolled to the wall.
Garcia, who singled in the first and scored on Travis d’Arnaud’s sacrifice fly, circled the bases for the first inside-the-park homer of his career.
“He said that he got disorientated,” Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo said of Grichuk, who broke in on the ball before realizing it was going to land well behind him.
“He was looking up, looking up and then he was like, it was weird,” the manager added. “He felt bad about it, too.”
Blue Jays: RHP Aaron Sanchez, who left Monday’s series opener with a finger injury, will throw a side session Thursday or Friday before a decision is made on whether he’ll go on the injured list or remain in the rotation. … A flu bug has affected several Blue Jays the past week, including INF Cavan Biggio, who was not in the lineup Tuesday.
Rays: C Mike Zunino (left quadriceps strain) started a rehab assignment with Class A Charlotte and will have his status evaluated this weekend. … INF Matt Duffy, out all season with a strained left hamstring, will see a specialist Wednesday. … INF Yandy Diaz still felt some discomfort in his bruised left hand during his first batting practice session. He plans to hit again Wednesday.
Rays two-way prospect Brendan McKay allowed three hits and struck out four over five scoreless innings in his first start with Triple-A Durham against Louisville. The lefty went 3-0 in eight games, striking out 62 and walking nine over 41 2/3 innings with Double-A Montgomery. He struggled offensively at Double-A, hitting .167 (13 for 78).
Reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell (3-4, 3.07 ERA), who’s received a combined two runs of support over his last three outings, starts the finale of the three-game series Wednesday night. The Blue Jays counter with right-hander Trent Thornton (1-4, 4.42).
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