TORONTO - The bases were loaded with no outs in the eighth inning and the Rays were clinging to a two-run lead. Jeremy Hellickson said he was nervous, which was OK, because Hellickson wasn't pitching. Joel Peralta was, and that actually made Hellickson feel a lot better. The Rays have seen Peralta work himself out of trouble before, but Saturday's performance against the Blue Jays might have been his best. "It was Houdini-esque," Rays manager Joe Maddon said.
Peralta retired the side, striking out the final two batters he faced, Fernando Rodney pitched himself into and out of trouble in the ninth inning and the Rays left the Rogers Centre with a 4-3 victory. "(This) was really big," Peralta said. "I've probably had some of those before, but as important as this game is right now, we're in second place a couple of games behind Boston, so this is on top of (the list)." The Rays have won 19 of their past 23 games, a streak matched by the 2004 and 2008 teams. They are a season-high 16 games over .500 and 2-0 on this 10-game road trip. Hellickson, who said he was feeling a bit lightheaded before he took the mound on a hot summer afternoon near Lake Ontario, went five innings to improve to 9-3. The offense, with two more hits from Wil Myers and bunt singles by Desmond Jennings and Ben Zobrist, did just enough against Mark Buehrle for the victory. The game was following a familiar script until the eighth inning. Maddon, who used Kyle Farnsworth to start the eighth inning during Friday's win, stayed with Alex Torres, who threw two perfect innings after replacing Hellickson. The plan is to reduce Peralta's workload. "I think they try to give me a rest but it's not working right now," Peralta said. "I don't know. It's kind of backwards. I'm getting in there and throwing more pitches, but I'm glad it worked out today." Farnsworth walked the only batter he faced Friday, and Peralta had to come in and get three outs. Torres walked the first two batters in the eighth inning - Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion - and Maddon had to call for Peralta. "He is so valuable. I've been trying to protect this asset as much as I possibly can," Maddon said. Peralta's 51 appearances this season are tops in the American League. So are his 197 appearances since joining the Rays in 2011. He is the reliable workhorse in the bullpen, and he wouldn't have it any other way. Maddon said he doesn't want Peralta to wear down in September and October if the Rays make the playoffs. Peralta said he was OK with the plan. "Well, if it keeps happening like it's happening, two (games) out of three, two out of four, I'll take it," he said. "I don't want to be, you know, five days off or four days off without pitching, because it gets me (out of rhythm). I'm not the same guy when it takes that long. But I think it's going to be all right. They know how to handle things here, and I'm up for it." Said Maddon: "What I've been trying to do is make it easier for him, and I'm just making it more difficult." Maddon hoped Torres could get the first two outs in the eighth. Ideally, Maddon wanted Torres to get all three so Peralta could have the day off. But, with runners on first and second and no one out, Maddon had little choice but to go with Peralta. And Peralta walked Adam Lind to load the bases. Peralta said he missed with his fastball to Lind. He said his backdoor slider wasn't there, either. Colby Rasmus was up next, and he fouled out to Jose Molina in front of the Jays dugout. "I knew Rasmus was coming, he's an aggressive hitter. Just attack the strike zone," Peralta said. "After I got him out it was a relief. But I never thought I was out of the game right there." Peralta got Maicer Izturis looking for out No. 2, then buried a splitter to get J.P. Arencibia swinging to complete the escape. "That's what he's been doing since he came here," Hellickson said. "I was nervous, but at the same time, it didn't surprise me one bit he got out of it." [email protected] (813) 259-7227 Twitter: @RMooneyTBO