Robbie Ray’s stellar start for the Blue Jays on Wednesday night wasn’t quite enough to get him a decision. Teammate Alejandro Kirk helped make sure that Toronto still got the victory.
Ray struck out a season-high 14 batters over seven innings and Kirk drove in the tiebreaking run in the eighth as the Blue Jays defeated the Chicago White Sox 3-1.
“The more he throws it, the better he gets,” Toronto manager Charlie Montoyo said of his starter. “He’s that guy. He’s having a hell of a year.”
Ray gave up back-to-back singles in the seventh inning before striking out Seby Zavala and Tim Anderson — capping it with an emphatic fist pump as he left the mound — while the Rogers Centre crowd of 14,276 roared its approval.
The left-hander became the fifth player in franchise history to record at least 14 strikeouts in a single game and first since Brandon Morrow fanned 17 in August 2010.
“Nights like tonight, they’re pretty special,” Ray said. “The team was able to grind it out and get a huge win there at the end. Kirk [had] a huge hit. It was an all-around really fun game.”
Ray moved into the American League lead with 192 strikeouts on the season, trailing only Philadelphia’s Zach Wheeler (204) for the major-league lead.
“That was fun to watch,” Montoyo said. “It was almost like watching a no-hitter because there was no room for error.”
Teoscar Hernandez started the late rally with a two-out single off Chicago reliever Aaron Bummer (2-5). Hernandez moved to second on a single by pinch-hitter Breyvic Valera and came across when Kirk lashed a 2-2 pitch to centre field.
“I was talking to myself, trying to get a good at-bat and trying to get a base hit,” Kirk said via a translator. “Thank God it happened and we got the win.”
The Blue Jays added an insurance run when Jose Ruiz walked Randal Grichuk with the bases loaded. The White Sox could have escaped the inning a batter earlier but third baseman Yoan Moncada misplayed a chopper by Lourdes Gurriel Jr.
Reliever Tim Mayza (4-1) worked a scoreless eighth inning for Toronto and closer Jordan Romano of Markham, Ont., earned his 13th save.
Toronto picked up a game on the Boston Red Sox in the race for the second American League wild-card spot. Boston dropped a 9-6 decision to the Minnesota Twins to leave the Blue Jays 4 1/2 games off the pace.
The White Sox, who have dropped four of five, have a nine-game lead on second-place Cleveland in the AL Central. Cleveland beat the Texas Rangers 7-2.
Chicago (73-55) scratched out a run on Ray in the third inning. Leury Garcia led off with a single, stole second base and swiped third before trotting home when Moncada hit a flare just inside the right-field foul line.
Toronto (66-59) pulled even in the fourth when Corey Dickerson tripled off White Sox starter Lucas Giolito to bring home Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who reached on a single.
Ray had a dominant slider and mixed in some fastballs and change-ups to keep the White Sox batters guessing. He retired nine in a row before issuing a two-out walk to Jose Abreu in the sixth inning.
Guerrero walked in the bottom half of the frame to reach base for the 217th time this season. That moved him past Atlanta’s Freddie Freeman for the major-league lead in the category.
Ray allowed five hits, one earned run and walked a batter. Giolito had an identical line, but with one fewer inning and six strikeouts.