ST. PETERSBURG — Blake Snell said during Monday’s media session that it meant a lot for him to start the first game of the postseason.
He went out and showed how meaningful it was by no-hitting the Blue Jays through five innings in the Rays’ 3-1 win on Tuesday night at Tropicana Field.
Snell’s no-no was foiled when rookie Alejandro Kirk, all 5-foot-8 and 265 pounds of him, singled to right on an 87-mph changeup leading off the sixth. After getting the next two batters, Snell’s night was complete after only 82 pitches. Manager Kevin Cash popped out of the dugout and summoned Diego Castillo from the bullpen.
“The playoff energy gets me a lot more excited for sure,” said Snell, who picked up his first career playoff win and averaged 95.3 mph on 37 four-season fastballs. “Overall, I felt good, but I still have some things to work on. I pitched good enough to get the win. We played good defense and we got the hits that we needed.”
Snell, who walked two and struck out nine to equal the team’s playoff mark held by Charlie Morton (2019) and Matt Garza (2008), did not appear thrilled about being removed.
“I am trying to go at least six,” he said. “I don’t know what it is about 5 ⅔. “I trust Cash and I am not going to question what he is doing. If he feels that is the best move, then I will go with it.”
Snell did not get through six innings in any of his 11 regular season starts. He topped out at 5 ⅔ innings twice, including last Tuesday against the Mets when he threw a season-high 108 pitches.
“Blake was outstanding for us,” said Cash. “He stepped it up. He did everything in his power to give us an opportunity to win a game.”
Tuesday’s outing against Toronto was far removed from last year’s postseason experience when Snell was working his way back from an arthroscopic procedure on his left elbow (loose bodies) and was limited by a pitch count.
Snell made three appearances against Houston in the ALDS, two of them in relief. He started and lost Game 2, allowing only a solo homer to Alex Bregman in 3 ⅓ innings.
He appeared in relief in Games 4 and 5 and recorded a save in Game 4. That gave him the distinction of becoming the second pitcher, according to STATS LLC, to have his first career relief appearance, postseason or regular season, result in a save. Snell joined Atlanta’s John Smoltz, who recorded a save against the Mets in Game 2 of the 1999 NLCS.