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Alek Manoah struggles early and Blue Jays on brink of elimination after wild-card loss to M’s

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Everything about the biggest day of Alek Manoah’s young and upwardly trending career was following the usual, scripted detail.

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The slow walk to left field an hour before first pitch. The earbuds to boom in his music while drowning out the noise at a Rogers Centre already buzzing in anticipation of the first post-season game here in six years. And then the usual routine of tossing a football in the outfield before his pure warmup session began as game time neared.

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Everything was on point until the Jays ace hit the mound for what would be a disaster of a first inning in his playoff debut.

“They beat me on my mistakes,” a sullen Manoah said after a start that didn’t go anywhere near as hoped, resulting in a 4-0 loss to the Seattle Mariners to set up a potential elimination on Saturday. “Today wasn’t good enough … but hopefully it’s not the last time.”

Trouble hit the big right-hander during a first inning in which he would give up three runs, immediately sucking the life out of the sellout crowd of 47,402 at the dome.
With that, the team that surged with such success over the past month and was heavily favoured going into the game, will look to starter Kevin Gausman to battle them back into the best-of-three series in a Game 2 that will arrive in rapid order.
The Jays have shown to be a resilient bunch all season and will have that test at its stoutest for Game 2.

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“We just have to win a series,” said second baseman, Whit Merrifield, who had a single in his first career post-season game. “We feel really good about the two guys we’re going to run out there (Gausman and Ross Stripling for a possible Game 3). And we know what this lineup can do.

“Long way to go (in the series.)”

Not that long in a best-of-three where the second contest is scheduled to start some 20 hours after the first one ended, but the Jays believe they have the resilience to claw back into it.

The entirety of Manoah’s outing wasn’t a mess — he allowed four hits and four runs over 5.2 innings — but given the pitching the Jays were facing, even a 3-0 deficit seemed insurmountable.

That’s because Mariners starter Luis Castillo was as billed, and then some, peppering Jays hitters with all sorts of offerings in the 99-100 mile-per-hour range.

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The Jays bats had no answers and only minimal contact and a series of soft-contact singles as Castillo tossed 7.1 shutout innings.

“(Castillo) was throwing 100-mile-an our sinkers,” Jays manager John Schneider said. “He had really good stuff today. We managed our hits and our at-bats were decent. (We just) couldn’t get the big hit when we got guys on base.”

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Though they may have slipped to the third seed in the AL wild-card race, the M’s were always going to be dangerous because of their pitching.

Trade deadline day acquisition Castillo brought the flames on Saturday and former Jays lefty (and reigning AL Cy Young Award winner) Robbie Ray will attempt to finish it off on Saturday.

But back to Manoah, who lost the game — and the showdown — between the heavyweight starters in a contest that figured to be light in scoring considering the over/under total of seven set by oddsmakers..

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Given Manoah’s off-the-charts intensity, it was a loss the big righty will take hard, given the impact he’s had on his team in this his first complete season in the bigs.

After Schneider ended his afternoon, Manoah returned to the dugout and flung his glove on the bench in disappointment. The manager noted that his starter may have been “a little fired up” at the beginning of his outing, but settled in nicely to keep the game within reach.

Still, the three runs the big righty allowed in the first equalled the total he had surrendered in his previous four starts combined.

And in a brilliant September, the 24-year-old allowed just four earned runs across six starts.. But on this day, he didn’t get out off the sixth inning for the first time in his previous nine starts.

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Now comes the Jays’ first true back-against-the-wall moment, one that didn’t surface during the lengthy 162-game campaign.

“Guys are up for the challenge and we’ve been saying it the whole year, the whole second half, that you’re trying to win every series,” Schneider said. “You’ve got to win two in a row to win it.”

GAME ON

Castillo’s final pitch of the game was a 97.9 -mph fastball that hit Springer on the left wrist and forearm area. The Jays leadoff man went down in a heap but remained in the game after consultation with Schneider and trainer Jose Ministral. Post-game X-rays revealed there was no fracture and Springer should be ready to go for Game 2 … Springer reached in three of his five plate appearances with a pair of singles to go with the hit by pitch … The Jays got their first extra-base hit when they were down to their final out — a ninth inning double from Chapman, his second hit of the game … The Jays fell to 1-3 all-time in wild card contests.

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