ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - J.P. Arencibia's mental scouting report on Tampa Bay Rays closer Fernando Rodney was "throws hard." So the Toronto Blue Jays catcher was anticipating a fastball with two out and Toronto down to its last strike on Monday at Tropicana Field.
He got a fastball. And he didn't miss it.
Arencibia's two-run homer in the top of the ninth inning completed a long but dogged comeback as the Blue Jays stunned the Rays 8-7 with the type of flair the underachieving Blue Jays had been lacking all season.
"I really don't know how to describe that win," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "In a lot of ways we were due, but you don't expect it to happen that way."
Arencibia's lined shot on a 2-2 pitch from Rodney finally erased a seven-run lead the Rays struggled to hold from the moment they amassed it in the third inning.
The Rays battered Jays starter Mark Buehrle, who pitched a perfect game against them in 2009, but Tampa Bay starter Jeremy Hellickson and the bullpen labored thereafter. And the Rays simply stopped hitting.
Rodney (1-1) entered with the task of recording the final five outs, and he almost made it. He pitched around a costly error by shortstop Yunel Escobar that ruined a potential inning-ending double play in the eighth. But Jose Bautista's flyout cut the margin to one run.
Third baseman Evan Longoria preserved the lead and ended the eighth when he made a stop of a grounder behind the bag and a two-bounce throw to first to retire Edwin Encarnacion.
Toronto put the tying run on third with no one out in the ninth when Adam Lind led off with a walk and pinch runner Emilio Bonifacio stole second and took third on catcher Jose Molina's throwing error. Rodney retired the next two batters before Arencibia hit his ninth homer of the season.
"When I saw how good I hit it, I knew it was going to get out of the park," said Arencibia, who had entered as a pinch hitter earlier in the game.
Toronto improved to 12-21 after being predicted to contend in the American League East following an offseason of roster improvements. Tampa Bay fell to 15-17 in the largest blown lead for a loss by a big-league team this season.
"It's very difficult," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "It's just unlike us to do these things."
Longoria's grand slam and a two-run shot from Luke Scott helped the Rays amass a 7-0 lead in the third inning. A single and a walk to the first two batters (the first six reached safely) set up a soaring Kelly Johnson single that Colby Rasmus apparently misjudged. Longoria then followed a squib hit by Ryan Roberts with his seventh homer of the season, a line drive into the left field stands, for a 5-0 lead. Scott followed James Loney's double with his second homer of the season. And then the Rays stopped hitting.
"He could have disappeared, but he kept it right there," Gibbons said of Buehrle. "One inning has been plaguing him all year."
Hellickson struggled despite the offensive support, needing 39 pitches to escape the next half inning, but not before the Jays used a two-run homer from Rasmus -- his fifth -- to trim the deficit to 7-3. Hellickson worked back into trouble with consecutive two-out walks, and Melky Cabrera punished him with an RBI single.
Maddon said Hellickson's inability to pitch longer with a seven-run lead was devastating for an already tired bullpen.
Jake McGee allowed a two-run home run on an 0-2 pitch to Toronto pinch hitter Mark DeRosa in the sixth that reduced the lead to 7-5.
Toronto immediately threatened again in the seventh against Kyle Farnsworth, putting runners on second and third with no outs. But second baseman Roberts threw Bautista out easily at home plate on a Lind grounder, and Joel Peralta entered to retire the side.
Hellickson was charged with three runs on six hits and four walks in five innings. Buehrle allowed seven earned runs on nine hits in six innings.
"I feel sorry for what happened tonight because the bullpen couldn't hold it for Hellickson," Rodney said. "Tomorrow is another day."
Darren Oliver (1-1) earned the win and Casey Janssen got his eighth save.
NOTES: The Blue Jays had lost five in row to Tampa Bay before Monday and eight in a row at Tropicana Field. ... Toronto won consecutive games for the first time since April 12-13 against the Royals. ... The Rays are the only team to have their starting pitchers work at least five innings in every game (31) this season. The Rays are one of just six teams -- including the 2012 Blue Jays (32 games) -- to accomplish the feat since 1916, when record-keeping became reliable on the statistic. ... Toronto has lost eight of 10 series this season, winning and splitting the other two. ... Rays right fielder Ben Zobrist is expected to rejoin the team on Tuesday after leaving because of the death of his grandmother. ... Umpires ruled after a third-inning video consultation that Johnson's blast to center field did not hit the 'D' ring, which would have been a home run by ground rule. He settled for a 400-foot RBI single.