St. Petersburg, FL – J.P. Arencibia smacked a go-ahead two- run homer in the ninth inning of the Toronto Blue Jays' unlikely 8-7 comeback victory over the Tampa Bay Rays in the opener of a four-game series at Tropicana Field.
Facing Fernando Rodney (1-1) in the ninth, Adam Lind drew a leadoff walk and was replaced by Emilio Bonifacio as a pinch-runner. Bonifacio then stole second and advanced to third on the same play as Jose Molina's throw from behind the plate skipped into the outfield.
Rodney struck out Colby Rasmus and forced Maicer Izturis to ground out to first base for two quick outs. The next batter Arencibia, though, faced a 2-2 count and smacked Rodney's 97 mile-per-hour fastball over the left field wall to give the Jays the eventual game-winner.
"In a lot of ways we were due, but you don't expect it to happen that way," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said of his team scoring eight unanswered runs.
Rasmus and Mark DeRosa each hit two-run homers, while Darren Oliver (1-1) picked up the win with a scoreless eighth.
Evan Longoria hit a grand slam and Luke Scott hit a two-run shot for the Rays, who plated all seven of their runs in the third inning. Rodney blew the save and threw a season-high 37 pitches over 1 1/3 innings in relief.
"You lose a game like this and it's tough. Everybody is going to go home very upset. It's how you bounce after the fall," Rays manager Joe Maddon said.
Tampa Bay's Jeremy Hellickson had plenty of run support but allowed three runs and walked four over five frames for a no-decision.
Toronto starter Mark Buehrle struggled through six innings, allowing all seven runs on nine hits and two walks, though the Jays won their second straight.
Trailing 7-0 after three innings, Toronto answered in the fourth and put the pressure on Hellickson. Rasmus made up for a key fielding blunder one inning earlier with a two-run shot to dead center to close the Jays' deficit to 7-2.
Hellickson retired the next two batters, but issued consecutive walks to Munenori Kawasaki and Brett Lawrie. Melky Cabrera followed with a single up the middle, scoring Kawasaki to make it 7-3. Hellickson finished the inning throwing 39 pitches, but finally escaped by striking out Jose Bautista.
Toronto added two more runs in the sixth versus Tampa Bay reliever Jake McGee, as DeRosa smacked a pinch-hit two-run homer just over the right field wall to bring the visitors within 7-5.
Rodney entered the game for Tampa Bay in the eighth with runners on first and second and one out. Cabrera reached base on Yunel Escobar's fielding error which loaded the bases. The next batter, Bautista, hit a sacrifice fly to right field to make it 7-6. Longoria, though, made a nice backhanded play on Edwin Encarnacion's grounder to end the inning.
Tampa Bay exploded for all seven runs in the third inning, but the scoring barrage came in unusual fashion.
Sam Fuld led off the frame with a single and Buehrle issued a walk to put runners on first and second. Kelly Johnson then appeared to hit a deep flyout to center, but Rasmus misjudged the flight of the ball in center and it landed over his head, allowing Fuld to score and make it 1-0.
The play was reviewed to see if the ball hit part of the dome's roofing, but the umpires' upheld the call. The sequence of events seemed to effect Buehrle greatly, as the hosts broke open the game with six more runs in the inning.
Ryan Roberts hit a swinging bunt to load the bases, and Longoria followed with a line drive homer to left field to give the Rays a 5-0 lead. James Loney kept the momentum going with a double down the right-field line. Buehrle struck out Sean Rodriguez, but Scott made him pay as he crushed the lefty's 1-0 offering over the right field wall to make it 7-0.
Toronto went just 4-14 versus the Rays last season ... The Rays fell to 7-3 this year when facing left-handed starting pitchers ... Buehrle has allowed 11 home runs over seven starts this season ... Cabrera, Bautista and Arencibia each had two hits for Toronto ... It was Longoria's third career grand slam.