ST. PETERSBURG — A 30-minute delay during the third inning at Tropicana Field on Wednesday came courtesy of a power outage due to lightning in the area.
Unfortunately, there is no similar simple reasoning to explain another fizzling performance from the Rays.
For the second consecutive night, Tampa Bay’s pitching faltered and the offense flickered as Toronto shut down the Rays again in a 7-4 Blue Jays victory in front of an announced crowd of 10,264. The series loss to Toronto snaps a 22-series unbeaten streak at home by the Rays dating to 2007. The Rays had been 20-0-2 in the previous 22 series at home against Toronto, which included a three-game sweep of the Blue Jays in Orlando in 2008. The Rays fell to 45-19 at home against Toronto since the start of the 2008 season and lost a series at home to the Blue Jays for the first time since April 2007.
“They have played better than we did the last two nights, and they deserved to beat us, plain and simple,’’ Rays’ manager Joe Maddon said. “They have a nice club, some really nice pitching. They have a good group, and they have beaten us primarily because they have outplayed us.’’
The Rays (67-73) lost for the 12th time in 18 games since reaching the .500 mark on Aug. 15, and they are 3-8 in the past 11 games.
Chris Archer (8-8) was roughed up for the second consecutive outing, allowing 10 hits and six runs in six innings of work. Dioner Navarro and Edwin Encarnacion each hit a two-run home run off Archer, who had allowed just seven home runs in 1611⁄3 innings heading into the game. Both home runs came off sliders that caught too much of the plate.
“Both I had two strikes on, and I didn’t execute the pitches, period,’’ Archer said. “That’s the story of the game, if you don’t execute your pitches, you are not going to be successful.’’
Tampa Bay starters, who had a 3.13 ERA since July 31 — fourth best in the American League in that span — have allowed 11 runs in 81⁄3 innings in the two games against the Blue Jays (71-67).
And one night after being two-hit, Tampa Bay’s offense again showed signs of struggling in key moments against Toronto starter Marcus Stroman (9-5), who cruised through six innings, allowing three hits before the Rays were able to string four hits together to bring home a pair of runs in the sixth.
After Ben Zobrist led off the bottom of the first with a single, Stroman retired 11 of the next 12 batters he faced and faced one over the minimum through four innings pitched.
“We came out flat, we just did,’’ Maddon said.
The Blue Jays’ offense, meanwhile, provided the run support, starting with Navarro’s two-run home run in the second inning. It marked the second two-run homer in as many nights for the former Rays catcher, and his fourth against Tampa Bay this season, when he hit a 2-2 slider off Archer into the right field stands for his 12th home run of the season.
With Toronto up by two, the booming sound of thunder rumbled outside the domed stadium and flashes of lightning could be seen through the roof before the lights flickered briefly before a section of lights on the third-base side went out. As the umpires and managers met to discuss the situation, a second embankment behind the home-plate area also went out as both teams retreated to their dugouts. After a 30-minute delay, which the Rays said was caused by a lightning strike at the 16th Strett Substation, the section of lights behind the Jays dugout returned to life.
The Rays offense, however, remained dim for the next few innings as Toronto began to pull away on a sacrifice fly by Danny Valencia in the fourth, sacrifice fly by Melky Cabrera in the fifth, followed two batters later by Encarnacion’s two-run home run to give the Blue Jays a 6-0 lead.
Tampa Bay managed to string four hits together in the bottom of the sixth, including RBI singles by Evan Longoria and James Loney, but Toronto pulled back one of those runs on another sacrifice fly by Valencia in the top of the seventh.
“They piled up too big of a lead, we tried to come back, but the big moment was giving them too much early,’’ Maddon said. “We hit the ball better, but when we finally got our traction, it was just too late.’’
The Rays showed some late life on a two-run home run by Longoria, his 18th of the season, that was just the third long ball hit by a Tampa Bay batter in 12 games, and just the 44th at home this season.
“There has been a power outage here at the ball park,’’ Maddon said. “I don’t have any solid explanations.’’
The Rays would get no closer, however, as Aaron Sanchez shut the door in the ninth for his second save of the season.