Even Rodney admitted afterward that it always seems to be something when he tries to close out a game at Rogers Centre.
Perhaps that’s not a bad thing, since the Rays open a four-game series tonight in Boston against the division-leading Red Sox.
Maybe the confidence gained from fending off another ninth-inning comeback by the Jays and winning 4-3 for the second straight day will serve the Rays well at Fenway Park, where they have won once this year in six games.
If anything, it was a measure of how far the hottest team in baseball has come during the past month.
“That’s the game we had been losing earlier in the year,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “Now we’re winning that same game, and that’s why it looks so good.”
The Rays have won 20 of their past 24, a streak accomplished once in team history, by the 2004 club. It is the best 24-game stretch in the majors this season and it pushed the Rays to a season-high 17 games over .500.
Chris Archer ran his winning streak to four with seven innings of one-run ball. After working out of a bases-loaded, two-out jam in the sixth, Maddon sent Archer out for the seventh and the rookie right-hander walked Jose Reyes to start the inning. But Archer got Jose Bautista to bounce into a double play.
Luke Scott, 0-for-12 lifetime against R.A. Dickey, ended a nine-pitch at-bat in the sixth with a two-run homer that broke a 1-1 tie.
Kelly Johnson followed with his 15th homer to give the Rays a 4-1 lead.
Joel Peralta was not available after his heavy workloads Friday and Saturday, and Maddon wanted to keep Jake McGee fresh for tonight, so it was Jamey Wright who pitched the Rays through the eighth.
On to the ninth, Rodney Time.
And Rodney walked No. 8 hitter Josh Thole and allowed an infield single to No. 9 hitter Brett Lawrie. Evan Longoria, whose fourth-inning homer pulled the Rays even at 1, dived to field Lawrie’s grounder but his throw to Johnson sailed into right field, putting runners on the corners with no outs and Reyes coming to the plate.
Reyes doubled into the right-center field gap to score both runners and put the tying run at second with no outs.
“The next three hitters are tough hitters so I calmed down a little bit, tried to make a good pitch, and I think I did,” Rodney said.
The next three hitters were Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Adam Lind, each capable of ending the game with one swing.
Rodney struck out Bautista on a 98 mph fastball. He got Encarnacion to ground to Longoria, with Reyes crossing to third base on the out. Rodney then pitched around the left-handed hitting Lind, who was replaced by pinch-runner Rajai Davis.
Davis stole second with Melky Cabrera up to put the winning run in scoring position.
Just as he did Saturday in a similar situation, Rodney got out of the jam. This time it was a game-ending ground ball to Longoria.
“That’s the type of resolve he has inside of him,” Scott said. “He doesn’t give in. He doesn’t let situations bother him. If you look at him he’s just the same. He doesn’t get rattled. He doesn’t get panicky. He’s calm. Whatever happens happens.”
It was the 15th straight save for Rodney, who will not be available tonight.
Maddon found a lot to like about the win on a day when Yunel Escobar (strained right hamstring) and Wil Myers (sore left wrist) did not play and two of his trusted relievers (Peralta and McGee) were not available.
He especially liked how Rodney gathered himself after Reyes made it a one-run game.
“How about just shutting it down after that,” Maddon said. “Bautista and Encarnacion and then Lind and eventually Cabrera, that’s a pretty good day’s work.”
On to Boston.
“Here we go,” Longoria said. “We’re right where we want to be.”