Tampa Bay Rays
Rays squander seven-run lead in loss to Blue Jays
ST. PETERSBURG -
Before Monday night's game, manager Joe Maddon said the Rays won't win unless their pitching improves markedly.
Boy, was he right.
Evan Longoria's third career grand slam highlighted a seven-run third inning for Tampa Bay, but Toronto kept chipping away and J.P. Arencibia capped the mammoth comeback with a two-run homer off struggling closer Fernando Rodney with two out in the ninth for a stunning 8-7 victory.
"It's just unlike us to do these things," Maddon said. "We had no other options. I didn't want to go to him (Rodney) that early but (Joel) Peralta was kind of expended and Fernando has not pitched a lot recently, so we were going to try and get five outs out of him."
Just when the Rays appeared set to open a 10-game homestand on a winning note, Arencibia turned on a 2-2 97 mph inside fastball and launched it into the left-field seats for his ninth homer, silencing an announced crowd of 9,952.
Darren Oliver (1-1) pitched one inning for the win and Casey Janssen retired the Rays in order in the bottom of the ninth for his eighth save.
Rays starter Jeremy Hellickson struggled through five innings, allowing three runs while throwing 101 pitches.
"I just couldn't put guys away with two strikes on them," said Hellickson, who was still sitting at his locker, staring straight ahead,15 minutes after the game ended. "It's pretty frustrating. I think we made good pitches … we just didn't make the good pitches when we needed to."
Jake McGee served up a two-run home run to pinch-hitter Mark DeRosa in the sixth and the last-place Blue Jays never stopped threatening.
Back-to-back singles by Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion and a stolen base put runners on second and third against Kyle Farnsworth with none out in the seventh.
Adam Lind then scorched a liner in front of second baseman Ryan Roberts, who fielded the ball deftly on a short hop and fired home to get Bautista.
Peralta came on and retired the next two batters, but the Rays called on Rodney for a rare five-out save as Toronto put two runners on in the eighth against Peralta.
Shortstop Yunel Escobar, who came on as a defensive replacement in the sixth, botched Melka Cabrera's potential double play grounder to load the bases and Bautista hit a sinking liner to right for a sacrifice fly.
With the tying run 90 feet away, Longoria backed up while fielding Encarnacion's grounder past third, then fired to first baseman James Loney on two bounces in time to retire Encarnacion and preserve the lead.
But Rodney, who threw 37 pitches, walked Lind leading off the ninth and pinch runner Emilio Bonifacio advanced to third on a steal and an errant throw by catcher Jose Molina.
Rodney, who converted 48-of-50 save opportunities in last year's historic season, retired the next two batters before blowing his second save in six chances as his ERA soared to 5.06.
"It's just part of the game," said Rodney, who matched his total for the entire 2012 season by yielding his second homer in 11 appearances. "The bullpen tried to hold it for Hellickson. Now, we just have to come back tomorrow."
The Blue Jays appeared en route to their ninth consecutive setback at Tropicana Field as the Rays battered Mark Buehrle for seven runs and six hits in the decisive third inning.
Kelly Johnson made it 1-0 with a 400-foot single off the center-field wall and Roberts followed with a 60-foot nubber up the first-base line to load the bases.
Longoria jumped on a 2-1 mistake down the middle and sent the ball crashing into the seats in left to put Tampa Bay ahead 5-0. A James Loney double and a Luke Scott homer capped the uprising, but Hellickson was about to make things interesting.
The Blue Jays promptly struck for three runs in the fourth as Hellickson labored through a 39-pitch inning that tested Maddon's patience.
Colby Rasmus followed Lind's leadoff single by golfing a low pitch over the center-field wall for his fifth home run. Two outs later, a pair of walks and an RBI single by Cabrera pulled Toronto within 7-3.
Forecast: Dry, muggy conditions for Tampa Bay before severe storms, possible tornadoes arrive ahead of cold front