One of the hottest teams in baseball has kicked off a 10- game road trip in fine fashion and now aims to win a fourth straight outing overall as the Tampa Bay Rays go up against the Toronto Blue Jays in the second of a three-game set at Rogers Centre Saturday afternoon.
Since losing back-to-back outings versus Toronto and Detroit in late June, the Rays have been taking down foes with staggering regularity, winning a total of 15 of their last 17 decisions. Rather surprisingly, the two setbacks during the run have come versus a Houston team that owns the worst record in baseball.
The Rays, now just 2 1/2 games behind Boston for first place in the American League East, needed some timely hitting late in the series opener on Friday as they picked up an 8-5 victory. The visitors tallied a pair of runs in both the eighth and ninth inning of a game that featured a total of eight home runs, four on both sides.
Wil Myers and Ben Zobrist both tallied three hits for Tampa Bay, the former scoring twice, while Kelly Johnson added a pair of hits and crossed the plate two times himself. All three players went deep for the Rays, as did Evan Longoria, who hit his 19th of the campaign.
Despite giving up three home runs to Toronto during the power display, David Price managed to hold on for the win as he made it through seven innings, permitting four runs on seven hits, while striking out five.
"That was a big win for us tonight," Price said. "We hit on all cylinders. I didn't pitch as well as I could have, I don't feel. Our defense was still phenomenal. We put up (14) hits and eight runs. (Toronto's Esmil) Rogers is an extremely tough starter, especially against us. And then the bullpen, the guys they run out there. Everybody's got a one-and-a-half ERA, so for us to get some quality at-bats and score some runs against those guys, it shows a lot about our hitters."
Suffering the loss was reliever Brett Cecil, who was charged with one run on one hit and a walk in just a third of an inning of work. Toronto starter Esmil Rogers surrendered all four home runs hit by the visitors, leading to four runs total. Rogers lasted 5 2/3 innings, scattering seven hits and striking out four.
Jose Bautista connected on his 21st home run of the campaign, a two-run shot in the third inning, while Edwin Encarnacion delivered his team-leading 26th home run. At the bottom of the lineup, J.P. Arencibia and Brett Lawrie also contributed solo home runs, but still the Jays bowed for the second straight game and fourth time in five tries.
With the defeat on Friday, Toronto is now five games under .500 and last in the AL East standings by playing 12 1/2 games off the pace set by division leader Boston.
Heading out to the hill this afternoon for the Rays will be Jeremy Hellickson, seeking his fifth win in as many decisions. The right-hander, who has a career mark of 4-2 with a 2.67 ERA in nine starts versus Toronto, has actually won seven of his last eight decisions overall after starting the campaign with two defeats in three decisions in the month of April.
Most recently Hellickson went up against Minnesota at home back on July 10 and while he allowed three runs on six hits over six innings, he did manage to strike out eight in what eventually became a 4-3 win for the hosts.
The Iowa native, already 1-0 on the season versus the Jays, has fanned a total of 97 batters in 2013, posting a combined 17 strikeouts in the last two games without walking a single batter.
Countering for the home team will be Mark Buehrle as he seeks to even his season record at 6-6. Now on with his third club in as many seasons, Buehrle is hoping to put a very rough appearance on July 12 in Baltimore behind him.
For the third time this season the left-hander surrendered three homes runs, eventually leading to eight earned runs on nine hits over six innings. Buehrle struck out four and didn't walk a batter, but still the Jays were dealt the 8-5 setback on the road.
Buehrle has already lost to Tampa Bay once in 2013, giving up four runs on eight hits and four walks in only five innings back on June 25. Despite the loss, the hurler still has a career mark of 8-4 with a 4.55 ERA in 21 appearances.
Tampa Bay has won the season series with the Jays in each of the last three years and is now again on top in 2013 with six victories in 11 chances thanks to last night's triumph.