Zobrist homers as Rays’ stop 7-game skid

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP)—All the Tampa Bay Rays needed to end their losing streak was a home game.

Ben Zobrist hit a two-run homer and James Shields allowed one run over seven innings to help the Rays snap a seven-game losing skid with a 2-1 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays on Friday night.

Zobrist hit his fourth homer of the season off A.J. Burnett (10-9) to give the Rays a 2-1 lead in the seventh. All four of the homers by the ninth-place hitter have come in his last 11 games.

“It felt great,” Zobrist said. “Burnett was pitching a great game. He was just real hard to hit. I was fortunate to get that fastball over the middle of the plate and put a good swing on it.”

Six of Tampa Bay’s losses during the losing streak came on the road. Friday’s victory improved the Rays’ home record to 37-14.

“We’ve been doing it all season here at home,” Shields said. “It’s a great one for us.”

Zobrist’s two-out shot came after third base umpire Mike Everitt ruled Eric Hinske checked his swing on a 3-2 pitch to draw a walk. It appeared on a TV replay that the call was correct.

“The umpire did a good job, he did not swing,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “That’s why we preach the good at-bat and accepting your walks when they’re there. They matter. I know Burnett did not want to do that, and it gave Zoey a chance to do what he did.”

Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston agreed the call was right.

“I think it was a checked swing,” he said. “I don’t think he swung at it.”

Shields (8-6) gave up four hits, two walks and had four strikeouts for Tampa Bay, which started Friday one-half game behind AL East-leading Boston.

Grant Balfour got the final four outs for his fourth save.

Tampa Bay has won 33 of 40 at home since April 22. The Rays are 19-25 on the road.

“There’s definitely a comfort about it,” Maddon said about playing home games. “You can’t deny that. As long as we maintain this kind of intensity and this kind of play at home I believe before the year is over we’ll become a much better road team also.”

Burnett went seven innings, giving up two runs and five hits. He won his two previous starts.

“It’s the only mistake all tonight,” Burnett said of the pitch to Zobrist. “I kept the team in it as long as I could. One pitch determined the outcome of the whole game.”

Burnett has been mentioned in trade speculation, but it appears he will remain with the Blue Jays.

“I don’t see A.J. going anywhere,” Toronto general manager J.P. Ricciardi said before the game.

Toronto has lost six of seven against Tampa Bay this season.

Adam Lind put the Blue Jays ahead 1-0 on a solo homer in the third. He has four homers and 17 RBIs in 18 games since being recalled from Triple-A Syracuse on June 21.

Tampa Bay went 5-for-53 with runners in scoring position over the previous seven games and failed to convert on five more chances during the first two innings. They didn’t have any chances with runners on after that.

Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg talked with his team before batting practice. Tampa Bay finished in last place nine times in its first 10 years.

“We have a chance for an incredible two months,” Sternberg said.

Notes

Blue Jays RHP Shaun Marcum (right elbow) is expected to be activated from the 15-day DL to start Tuesday’s game at Baltimore. … Rays LF Carl Crawford stopped a career-long 0-for-26 slide with a single in the third…. Tampa Bay activated RHP Al Reyes (shoulder) from the DL. … Toronto RHP Dustin McGowan (shoulder) will have his status re-evaluated in two weeks. … Burnett became the first Toronto pitcher to start consecutive games. He also started the final game before the All-Star break last Sunday against the Yankees.

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