The Tampa Bay Rays seem to have put their disastrous finish to baseball’s first half behind them. Then again, their success at Tropicana Field was never in question.
The first-place Rays, winners of seven of their last eight at home, will look to complete their second three-game sweep of the Toronto Blue Jays in central Florida this season on Sunday.
Tampa Bay (57-39) limped into the All-Star break on a seven-game losing streak, losing its last six on the road while scoring a total of nine runs.
The Rays’ offense didn’t produce much in its first game after the break Friday, but two seventh-inning runs and a strong start from James Shields were enough to get them back in the win column with a 2-1 victory.
Tampa Bay hadn’t scored more than four runs in its last eight games, but got that many in one swing on Saturday. Evan Longoria hit his first career grand slam as part of a five-run sixth inning off Toronto ace Roy Halladay, and the Rays held on to win 6-4, their seventh in eight games against the Blue Jays (47-50).
“Definitely one of my more prouder at-bats,” said Longoria, who fouled two balls off his left ankle during a 10-pitch at-bat. “It was all I could do with them until he finally threw the one over the plate I could handle.”
Tampa Bay’s starters have been outstanding in the first two games of the series, as both Shields and Matt Garza lasted at least seven innings. Garza made it through 7 2-3 on Saturday, allowing just two hits.
Rays starters are 6-1 with a 2.30 ERA against Toronto this season.
The win Saturday, meanwhile, was the Rays’ 37th at home this season— equaling their total from last season.
“I think that goes back to what we were doing in the first half—just winning games any way we can,” Longoria told the Rays’ official Web site.
Edwin Jackson (5-6, 3.93 ERA) will try to pitch Tampa Bay to its second sweep of the Blue Jays, after it beat them three times in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., from April 22-24.
Jackson has been impressive in both starts so far this month. He allowed two runs - one earned - over eight innings in an 11-2 win over Kansas City on July 4, then gave up a run in 6 1-3 against the New York Yankees on July 9. He didn’t get a decision in that start, a 2-1 loss in 10 innings.
Jackson was brilliant in his lone start against Toronto this season, pitching eight shutout innings at Rogers Centre on May 8, though he was kept out of the win column there as well. Tampa Bay won 8-3 in 13 innings.
The Blue Jays went into the All-Star break as winners of five of six, but their offense—which ranks 13th of 14 AL teams in runs—has managed five runs and 10 hits thus far in this series.
With center fielder Vernon Wells on the disabled list, Alex Rios is one of the few threats in Toronto’s lineup. Rios, however, is hitting just .120 (3-for-25) with no RBIs against the Rays this season.
Parrish allowed a run over six innings in a 9-5 win over Atlanta on June 28, then gave up three runs in seven innings in a no-decision against Baltimore in a 6-5 loss on July 10. The left-hander is making his second career start against the Rays and first at Tropicana Field.
Toronto has lost seven straight road games to Tampa Bay.