Rays' 4-3 victory is a big relief

The SportsXchange

TORONTO -- The game got a lot closer than the Tampa Bay Rays would have liked, but they buckled down to thwart eighth and ninth inning rallies by the Toronto Blue Jays and stretched their winning streak to four games.

Toronto stranded the potential tying run at second base against closer Fernando Rodney after failing to cash in a runner from a bases-loaded, no-out situation in the eighth in a game Tampa Bay was in control of for much of the day.

The Rays' three-run third inning proved to be the difference in a 4-3 victory over the Blue Jays in front of 42,639 fans at Rogers Centre.

"It was really big," said Rays reliever Joel Peralta, who kept Toronto off the board in the eighth. "I've probably had some of those before. With the spot we're in right now, second place, a couple of games behind Boston, it's really huge."

Wil Myers went 2-for-4 and drove two runs, while Evan Longoria added his team-leading 54th run batted in of the season. Desmond Jennings went 3-for-4 with a walk and scored twice, and Ben Zobrist had his second consecutive multi-hit game.

The Rays (57-41) won for the 19th time over their last 23 games, and the hot stretch has moved them from last place in the American League East to second.

Tampa Bay has won eight of its last 11 games on the road, is 7-0-1 in its last eight series and will go for a series sweep on Sunday.

Toronto, meanwhile, has dropped three consecutive games and will try to avoid being swept. The Blue Jays (45-51) are 7-15 over their last 22 games after winning 11 in a row, which tied a franchise record.

Frustrations are starting to mount for the Blue Jays, who were expected to contend for the division title, but continue to slide out of the playoff picture.

The Blue Jays have dropped six of their last seven series.

"Maybe we were overrated," said Blue Jays starter Mark Buehrle, who joined the Blue Jays in the offseason as part of a blockbuster deal with the Miami Marlins. "Maybe we aren't as good as we thought we were."

Buehrle (5-7) settled down after a rough start to go seven innings for the second time in his last three starts, but suffered his second consecutive loss.

The left-hander allowed a season-high tying 10 hits, while walking three and striking out five.

Rays starter Jeremy Hellickson (9-3) pitched five innings of two-run ball and remains unbeaten in his last six starts. The right-hander allowed five hits, while walking three and striking out three.

Hellickson wasn't feeling well and has been light-headed since Friday, but he managed to battle through it.

"I think it's going around; there's five or six of us who aren't feeling too well," Hellickson said.

Alex Torres and Peralta combined for three scoreless innings of relief before turning the ball over to Rodney in the ninth. Peralta struck out Toronto catcher J.P. Arencibia with the bases loaded on a splitter with the count full to end the eighth.

Rays skipper Joe Maddon was extremely impressed with Peralta's effort.

"It was Houdini-esque," Maddon said. "Just a masterful job on his part of managing the moment."

Rodney allowed one run but got Adam Lind to fly out to center to end the game, stranding two runners to earn his 23rd save of the season.

Myers cashed the first run of the game on a sacrifice fly in the first, before the Rays opened things up in the third.

Tampa Bay sent seven batters to the plate as part of its three-run inning to take a 4-0 advantage. Longoria drove in one run on a force out, and Myers added his second RBI with a single to center.

The Rays scored their third run of the inning when second baseman Brett Lawrie made a throwing error trying to turn a double-play, which allowed Longoria to score from third.

"I threw a ball away early in the game and it cost us a run," said Lawrie, who went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts. "We've got to suck it up and come back tomorrow and do it all again."

Toronto snapped Hellickson's shutout bid in the bottom half of the third on a two-out solo home run by right fielder Jose Bautista, his 22nd of the season.

Rays designated hitter Luke Scott extended his hitting streak to a career-high 12 games with a leadoff single in the top of the eighth.

Catcher Jose Molina was the only Rays starter who failed to record a hit.

NOTES: An estimated 1,000-plus Montreal Expos fans were in attendance for the game as part of a growing movement to help Montreal regain a baseball team. The Expos gathering has become an annual event in Toronto. ... The Blue Jays will honor retired first baseman Carlos Delgado, the franchise's all-time home run leader, during an on-field ceremony before Sunday's game. Delgado will become the 10th Blue Jays player inducted to the club's Level of Excellence.
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