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Vladimir Guerrero Jr.'s 100th career home run lifts Blue Jays over Rays 5-1

TORONTO — For weeks the clubhouse attendants at Rogers Centre have been teasing Vladimir Guerrero Jr., reminding him that he was one home run away from reaching 100 on his career. They can leave him alone now.
Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr., right, is congratulated on his solo home run against the Tampa Bay Rays by teammate Teoscar Hernandez, left, during first inning MLB action in Toronto, Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

TORONTO — For weeks the clubhouse attendants at Rogers Centre have been teasing Vladimir Guerrero Jr., reminding him that he was one home run away from reaching 100 on his career.

They can leave him alone now.

Guerrero had a solo homer in the first inning and later added an RBI as the Toronto Blue Jays beat the Tampa Bay Rays 5-1 on Wednesday. Guerrero celebrated the milestone in Toronto's dugout by drawing out the numerals 1-0-0 in the air with his fingers.

"I couldn't hit it on the last homestand so when we play away they reminded me 'Hey, make sure you hit it when you're away," said Guerrero through translator Hector (Tito) Lebron. "Finally I did it, I got the No. 100."

Guerrero was able to recover the ball because it landed in the Blue Jays' bullpen. He said he intended to give it to his father, Hall of Famer Vladimir Guerrero.

"He's going to be very proud of me," said the younger Guerrero. "When your son does something like that, I'm sure that any dad would feel proud."

Bo Bichette, Santiago Espinal and Raimel Tapia all had RBI singles as the Blue Jays (81-62) added to their lead over the Rays in the tight American League wild-card race. 

Toronto now has a 1 1/2 game lead over Tampa Bay and a half-game over the Seattle Mariners, who beat the San Diego Padres 6-1 earlier Wednesday.

Ross Stripling (8-4) earned a quality start and the win, going 6 1/3 innings, allowing just one run on three hits and striking out four. Relievers Adam Cimber, Yimi Garcia, and Anthony Bass closed the door the rest of the way.

The 32-year-old Stripling, typically a long reliever, stepped into Toronto's rotation after Hyun-Jin Ryu had season-ending Tommy John surgery. Stripling has had 21 starts this season, a career high. The win was his sixth consecutive game with six or more innings pitched.

"I'm proud of the way I've competed and taken an opportunity and ran with it," said Stripling. "I've done that in my career before but this one feels a little bit more special. We're in the AL East, in a playoff run, the team really needed me after we lost Hyun-Jin."

Harold Ramirez's home run was all the offence Tampa Bay (79-63) would get. Drew Rasmussen (10-5) gave up four runs in as many innings on six hits and a walk. He struck out one. Josh Fleming allowed one run on five hits over his four innings.

Guerrero got to Rasmussen in the first, launching a fastball 365 feet to deep left field for his 28th homer of the season. It snapped a 14-game home run drought for Guerrero. His last round-tripper came on Aug. 30 in a 5-3 win over the Chicago Cubs.

"I don't think much about that. It's a long season," said Guerrero. "A lot of ups and downs. I'm the kind of person that I give you all I've got, I go out there and compete every day and we'll see what happens."

The burly all-star struck again in the third when his fielder's choice scored Santiago Espinal from third base. In the next at bat, Bo Bichette singled to right field to cash in Jackie Bradley Jr. for a 3-0 Toronto lead.

Espinal tacked on a run in the fourth when his bouncing single found its way between Rays third baseman Yandy Diaz and shortstop Taylor Walls. As the Tampa infielders recovered the ball, Blue Jays catcher Danny Jansen ran home from third.

Tapia kept Toronto's momentum going in the sixth when his base hit dropped into centre field for a single. That scored Jansen from second to make it 5-0. Jansen had reached base on his second double of the game.

Ramirez cut into that lead in the seventh, hitting a solo home run off Stripling to lead off the inning. Ji-Man Choi grounded out to first in the next at bat but that ended Stripling's night. He got a standing ovation from the 24,282 in attendance at Rogers Centre.

LOURDES PROGRESS — Interim Blue Jays manager John Schneider said that outfielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr., would play some catch as he progresses from a left hamstring strain. He is scheduled to come off of the 10-day injured list on Sunday but Schneider said a lot would depend on how Gurriel is feeling this weekend.

ON DECK — Kevin Gausman (12-9) is scheduled to start in the finale of Toronto's five-game series against the Rays. Shane McClanahan (11-5) will take the mound for Tampa Bay in the 3:07 p.m. ET matinee.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 14, 2022.

John Chidley-Hill, The Canadian Press