KISSIMMEE, Fla. (AP)—Disney World has turned into quite an alternative home for the Tampa Bay Rays.
Four different players drove in runs to back the pitching of Andy Sonnanstine, and the Rays came from behind for the third straight night to beat the Toronto Blue Jays 5-3 for a sweep of a home-away-from-home series.
The Rays improved to 6-0 in regular-season games they’ve played at Disney in an ongoing effort to bolster fan support in the Orlando area, which is about 90 miles east of the team’s domed stadium in St. Petersburg.
Evan Longoria tripled and had a sacrifice fly for Tampa Bay, which got two RBIs from Eric Hinske and one each from Carl Crawford and Dioner Navarro to sweep a “home” series for the first time since beating Texas three straight in Kissimmee last May.
“They’re banged up a little bit. We caught them at the right time,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “But we did play well. We pitched well. We got big hits when necessary.”
This year’s series drew announced crowds of 8,269, 8,989 and 9,540 to the spring training home of the Atlanta Braves.
And while two of the three fell short of the stadium’s capacity of 9,500, Rays president Matt Silverman said the team continues to make strides in its bid to become a regional franchise.
“It’s imperative that we expand our boundaries,” he said, adding that improved television ratings in the Orlando area is probably the best indicator of increased interest in Central Florida.
The Rays rallied from a 2-0 deficit against Dustin McGowan (1-2), who allowed five runs on four hits and a career-high seven walks in four-plus innings. Hinske had an RBI single in the fourth and put Tampa Bay ahead 4-3 with an RBI fielder’s choice grounder in the fifth.
Sonnanstine (3-1), coming off a three-hit, complete-game shutout of the Chicago White Sox, allowed three runs and six hits in 6 1-3 innings. Closer Troy Percival worked out of a ninth-inning jam for his third save in as many nights, and fourth overall.
Marco Scutaro had an RBI single for the Blue Jays, who have lost seven of nine games, including four straight. A wild pitch and Gregg Zaun’s heads-up baserunning produced the other runs off Sonnanstine.
“We’re playing well below our capability,” Zaun said after Toronto went 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position. “We’ve had some moments of brilliance. We get some great individual performances from people night in and night out. But as a team, we haven’t played a really solid nine-inning game in a while.”
Toronto’s Alex Rios was ejected in the third inning after flipping his bat toward the Blue Jays’ dugout and slamming his batting helmet to the ground after striking out. Rios tried to check his swing, but first base umpire Tim McClelland ruled he went around and tossed the outfielder when Rios reacted.
The Blue Jays scored twice in the third on Scutaro’s RBI single and Zaun’s alert play after advancing to third on David Eckstein’s sacrifice. Zaun raced home when Tampa Bay’s catcher, Navarro, left the plate uncovered after fielding the bunt.
McGowan struck out five of seven batters he faced in the first two innings, but struggled with command the rest of the night. The right-hander walked the bases loaded in the fourth, then walked two more to load the bases with no outs in the fifth.
“I lost my concentration. It’s embarrassing,” McGowan said. “I was good for the first three innings and I just fell apart.”
Longoria’s sacrifice fly off reliever Brian Tallet tied the score 3-all before Hinske and Navarro drove in the last two runs charged to McGowan.
The Blue Jays had the potential tying runs in scoring position in the ninth, but Percival struck out Scutaro and got Eckstein to fly to center to end the game.
Crawford’s fifth-inning single extended his hitting streak to 11 games. … Toronto’s Matt Stairs went 0-for-3, ending his 11-game hitting streak. … Blue Jays 3B Scott Rolen, out since spring training with a broken finger on his right hand, worked out with the team before the game and is expected to be activated Friday in Kansas City. … After the game, Rays RHP Matt Garza, sidelined since April 8 because of radial nerve irritation in his pitching arm, was activated from the 15-day disabled list. He will start Friday against Boston. OF Justin Ruggiano was optioned to Triple-A Durham.