ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Tampa Bay continued its climb back toward the top of the American League East on Friday night as Jose Lobaton's walk-off triple in the ninth sent the Rays to a 5-4 win over the Toronto Blue Jays at Tropicana Field.
With the victory, the Rays are now one game behind the Red Sox for the division lead. Tampa Bay has won three straight on the heels of a six-game losing skid, the club's longest since the start of the 2011 season. The Rays also have won 17 of their last 21 home games, and two of the last three have been of the walk-off variety.
The win would have provided quite an emotional moment for the Rays under any circumstances, but it was a particularly special one for Lobaton, the Rays' 28-year-old Venezuelan catcher playing in front of his parents for the first time in his major-league career.
"That's awesome," Lobaton said afterward. "That's the best feeling I've ever had in baseball."
Lobaton's first career walk-off hit ended Tampa Bay's quick and decisive ninth-inning rally -- their ninth walk-off victory this year -- before a home crowd of 15,433.
Rays shortstop Yunel Escobar worked a one-out walk against Blue Jays left-hander Aaron Loup, setting the stage for Lobaton. The catcher lined the first pitch he saw from Loup down the line into the right-field corner, allowing Escobar to score the winning run from first base.
"I know I'm not a power hitter. I didn't want to hit the ball on the ground. Stay out of the double play," Lobaton said. "I thought I had a double and could move [Escobar] to third. I saw him keep running. Thank God that happened."
It was the fourth walk-off triple in the majors this season and the third in Rays franchise history. Only two other catchers since 1994 have hit a walk-off triple, and both have come in the last calendar year: Cincinnati's Dioner Navarro on Sept. 27, 2012, and Minnesota's Ryan Doumit on June 1.
"Incredible moment," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "The way we fought back was outstanding."
Indeed, the Rays had to crawl back into the game after struggling early against knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, who previously had given Tampa Bay nothing but trouble at Tropicana Field. Instead, it was Toronto that found more trouble here, having lost five of six, 13 of 16 and 19 of 26 games here since 2011.
After scoring in the first before Lobaton drove in Escobar to tie the game in the third, the Blue Jays took a 2-1 lead in the fifth on Edwin Encarnacion's RBI single to left. They added another run in the sixth, when Matt Joyce couldn't reel in catcher Josh Thole's fly ball to right, sending the ball rolling into foul territory long enough for Thole to reach third base. He scored on Anthony Gose's chopper up the middle, giving Toronto a 3-1 lead.
But Tampa Bay pulled within one run in the sixth, when Joyce mashed his 15th homer on the 11th pitch of his at-bat against Dickey. The blast snapped Joyce's career-long homerless streak of 123 at-bats.
"I've just struggled so much and it's been so frustrating for me," Joyce said. "I feel like it's been years. I almost forgot what that felt like."
The Rays finally took the lead in the seventh in perhaps an equally frustrating inning for Dickey. After a check-swing single by James Loney and Kelly Johnson's walk, Escobar tied the game at 3-3 on an RBI groundout. Then Sam Fuld laced an RBI single to left to score the go-ahead run, the only hard-hit ball Dickey gave up in a two-run inning.
"Sometimes it's just the nature of the game, and sometimes it's just a situation we've got to take ownership on what we don't do well and try to execute better next time," Dickey said. "Tonight, for me, was tough because I had a good knuckleball. This is a good place for me. It's not often that you give up eight baserunners and four of them score. That's just a very bizarre night. We should have won that game in regulation."
Toronto tied the game in the eighth on a fielder's-choice grounder but wasted two excellent scoring opportunities in the eighth and ninth, setting up Lobaton's dramatic finish to an eventful, back-and-forth affair.
"We had the lead, gave it up, had plenty of opportunities, couldn't get it done," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "That's why they're at the top and we're at the bottom. It's pretty simple."
NOTES: Rays RHP Jeremy Hellickson recorded his 11th quality start of the season and received a no-decision, but the Rays won one of his starts for the first time since July 26. He allowed nine hits, eight of which were singles. ... The Blue Jays placed IF Munenori Kawasaki on the paternity list and activated LHP J.A. Happ, who will start Saturday, from the bereavement list. Gibbons said Kawasaki is likely to miss three games after the birth of his son. ... Rays OF Desmond Jennings (fractured left middle finger) hit in the batting cage for the first time Friday and should be activated off the 15-day disabled list when eligible on Monday. ... Rays DH Luke Scott was out of the lineup for the second straight game because of back spasms. ... RHP Jesse Crain, acquired by the Rays before the July 31 trade deadline, played catch and made throws from 105 feet on Friday. He hopes to begin throwing from 120 feet soon. ... Gibbons said RHP Esmil Rogers and LHP Mark Buehrle will start Tuesday's doubleheader against the New York Yankees, with Rogers taking the opener and Buehrle the night game. They will be followed by Dickey on Wednesday and Happ on Thursday, with RHP Todd Redmond set to start Friday's series opener against the Houston Astros. ... In honor of the 25th anniversary of the classic baseball movie Bull Durham, the mascots of the Rays' Triple-A affiliate Durham Bulls were in attendance on Friday night.