ST. PETERSBURG — For a team that has to win in order to keep their playoff hopes alive and keep the front office from trading All-Star pitcher David Price, the weekend could not have gotten off to a worse start than it did Friday.
First, the Blue Jays withstood a Rays rally and won going away, scoring three times off closer Grant Balfour in the ninth inning for an 8-5 victory in front if 17,533 at Tropicana Field.
Then there’s this: Rays manager Joe Maddon said Price left the Trop early because he felt ill and was scratched from today’s start.
“I guess some kind of a virus has been coming on,” Maddon said.
Jake Odorizzi will start this afternoon against the Blue Jays.
“We’re hoping that David can actually pitch on Sunday,” Maddon said. “I will know more (today).”
Friday’s loss dropped the Rays 11 games under .500 and 10 ˝ games behind the first-place Orioles, who were walk-off winners against the Yankees.
The Rays also dropped back into last place after the Red Sox beat the Astros in Houston.
That’s not how a team convinces management it’s still in the hunt.
The Rays trailed 5-1 in the fourth inning and rallied to tie it at 5-5 on a long three-run homer by Sean Rodriguez in the seventh inning.
But Balfour couldn’t get the Rays through the ninth, allowing three runs on three hits and a pair of walks.
“For me it was embarrassing,” Balfour said. “It was a bad effort on my part.”
Rays starter Chris Archer was terrific during the first two innings, striking out five of the six batters he faced. But the Jays reached him for three runs in the third inning and two runs in the fourth and Archer was gone after the fifth.
When asked what happened after the second inning, Maddon said, “I don’t know. His velocity came down a lot by the fifth inning. I noticed that on the board. … He started out great. You could see their swings, bad swings, strike-throwing. He was definitely in command of the game early.”
Archer failed to pitch into the seventh inning for the first time since he went three innings June 14 against the Astros in Houston. The five earned runs were the most he’s allowed since May 1 when he allowed five against the Red Sox in Boston.
“The biggest thing was leading off the inning with two runs in the fourth, because they can single me to death,” Archer said. “If I give up five runs on however many singles it takes to get five runs, I can stomach it a little better, but the fact I walked two, I think was the difference in the game.”
The Rays took a 1-0 lead in the first inning against Mark Buehrle. Desmond Jennings, Ben Zobrist and Brandon Guyer started the inning with singles. Guyer’s hit was a bunt that Buehrle fielded but did not have a play at any base.
Evan Longoria drove home Jennings with a sacrifice fly. But James Loney ended the inning when he hit into a double play.
The Rays loaded the bases with two outs in the second inning but failed to score when Zobrist flied out to center field for the third out.
“I felt like we needed to get on (Buehrle) early,” Maddon said. “We did getting base runners, but we could not finish the deal. … We could have really put a different tone on the game early.”
None of that seemed to matter when Rodriguez hit his career-tying ninth home run of the season in the seventh inning. The homer followed back-to-back two out walks to Evan Longoria and James Loney.
“He’s hit some far home runs this year,” Maddon said. “And that was really far.”
Maddon used Cesar Ramos for two innings and Brad Boxberger for one to get to the ninth inning.
Balfour came in and walked Dan Johnson to get things started.
Johnson, the former Ray who has a seat down the right line painted white in his honor to commemorate his pinch-hit, two-out, two-strike home run that tied Game 162, was playing his first game at the Trop since that final night of the 2011 regular season.
He drew four walks in four trips to the plate.
“We could not find the strike zone on Danny,” Maddon said.
Jose Reyes followed with a double to left field, and Steve Tolleson put the Jays in front with a single. Another walk, a wild pitch and another single and the Jays had a three-run lead and Balfour was booed as he walked off the mound.
“It was embarrassing, really, for me to out thee and do that,” Balfour said. “I know I’m a lot better than that. I take full responsibility, take the loss on my shoulders and back out here (today).”