TORONTO - James Loney was back home celebrating the birth of his first child, and Yunel Escobar was on the bench nursing a tight hamstring, so the Tampa Bay Rays were a little, well, hamstrung Friday night when they began the second half of the season against the Blue Jays.
It didn't look good when the Jays used three home runs to build a 4-1 lead against David Price after three innings.
But the Rays rallied. The fill-ins came up big. Price slammed the door on the Jays hitters and the end result was an 8-5 victory that pushed the Rays to a season-high 15 games over .500.
"That's a Rays win," Price said.
It was also the 11th win in their last 12 games. The Rays have also won 18 of their last 22.
"Pretty much got to consider that a team win right there," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "We were minus two of our better defenders and everybody picked it up."
Kelly Johnson, filling in for Loney at first base, had two hits, including a home run that tied the score at 4-4 in the sixth inning, and a leadoff single in the eighth that produced the go-ahead run.
Ryan Roberts, called back up from Triple-A Durham to replace Loney while he's on paternity leave, was hitless in three at-bats before he singled home Johnson in the eighth to give the Rays a 5-4 lead.
That run was set up by a sacrifice bunt by Sean Rodriguez on an 0-2 count that moved Johnson into scoring position.
"I just thought the play that had the best opportunity on July 19 at the particular moment was the bunt," said Maddon, who normally does not like to sacrifice.
The Rays matched their season high with four home runs - all solo shots off Jays starter Esmil Rogers, who has allowed seven solo home runs to the Rays this season.
Yet the comeback was made possible by Price, who allowed the Jays to take a 4-1 lead with a three-run third inning before retiring nine of the final 10 batters he faced.
"Our guys battled all year long. They never quit," Price said. "I wanted to keep it right where it was at 4-1 and give them a chance to feel they could come back."
Price allowed three home runs - solo shots to Edward Encarnacion and J.P. Arencibia and a two-run blast to Jose Bautista. His four runs allowed ended the Rays' streak of quality starts at 15.
He also walked his first batter in four starts since returning from the disabled list - Mark DeRosa in the third inning, who was the 100th batter Price faced since being activated.
Price credited the Blue Jays for the home runs. Encarnacion and Arencibia hit good pitches, he said. He hung a curveball to Bautista.
Maddon felt Price got better as the game wore on.
"He did not break at all," Maddon said.
Price won for the fourth time this season, the third time since coming off the DL.
As for the four-game All-Star break messing with the Rays' momentum? Hardly a factor.
"We're playing the best ball that we have leading up to the All-Star Break and to add that four-day break, you don't want it to mess up the momentum that the team has, the winning feeling we have in the clubhouse and in the dugout and every day we come to the field," Price said. "That was a big win for us tonight. We hit on all cylinders."
Said Maddon, "We're playing good baseball and that's continued."
It wasn't a perfect game, though.
Maddon used Kyle Farnsworth in the bottom of the eighth with a two-run lead because he wants to limit the workload on Joel Peralta. Farnsworth walked Encarnacion, the only batter he faced and, according to Maddon, the only batter he would have faced regardless of the outcome.
Peralta came on and still had to pick up three outs.
Maddon said you that will be continue to be his strategy during the second half of the season.
"I don't want to run (Peralta) into the ground," Maddon said.
The Rays were also horrible with runners in scoring position through seven innings, going 0-for-6 before finishing the night 4-for-14.
But solo home runs by Ben Zobrist, Wil Myers, Evan Longoria and Johnson brought them back, and the big hits with men on base kicked in during the eighth inning as the Rays scored four runs in their last two at-bats.
Roberts got the first hit with a runner in scoring position, hitting the first pitch he saw from Steve Delabar in the eighth inning to left field to score Johnson.
"I saw he was throwing a lot of strikes, a lot fastballs, and just tried to be prepared to jump on the first one instead of trying to see one," Roberts said.
It was another big hit by Roberts as a fill-in. He homered twice and drove in three runs on July 1 in Houston before being sent back to Durham the following day to make room on the roster for Price's return.
"I feel blessed more than anything," Roberts said. "Situations come up like that in a game, and you love nothing more to get your starting pitcher a win after working hard and coming back in the game. We're all friends out there. We got each other's backs.
"I wanted nothing more right there than to get a hit for David."