ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - J.P. Arencibia's two-out, two-run homer in the top off the ninth inning completed the Toronto Blue Jays' long but dogged comeback on Monday as the Blue Jays beat the Tampa Bay Rays, 8-7, at Tropicana Field.
Arencibia's lined shot off closer Fernando Rodney on a 2-2 pitch finally erased a seven-run lead the Rays struggled to hold from the moment they amassed it in the third inning.
The Rays battered Mark Buehrle, who pitched a perfect game against them in 2009, but Tampa Bay starter Jeremy Hellickson and the bullpen labored against the persistent Blue Jays.
Rodney (1-1) entered hoping to record the final five outs, and almost made it. He pitched around a costly error by shortstop Yunel Escobar that ruined a potential inning-ending double play in the eighth. That set up an RBI flyout by Jose Bautista that 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 made a two-bounce throw to first to get 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.
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.
Hellickson labored 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.
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.
NOTES: 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. ... Rays shortstop Yunel Escobar (bruised left hand) took grounders before the game and was available, although he didn't start. ... 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.