The last two games between Tampa Bay and Toronto have ended with runners getting thrown out at home plate while trying to score the tying run.
With Rays ace David Price taking the ball, the Blue Jays can only hope the series finale will be that close.
The Rays try to salvage a four-game split Sunday as Price attempts to rebound from a rare rough outing with his sixth consecutive winning start in Toronto.
The Rays (72-61) had lost seven straight one-run games since a 3-2 home win over Toronto (60-72) on Aug. 8.
"They did it to us last night, we did it to them today," Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon said after his team won for the second time in eight games to remain 4 1/2 back of AL East-leading New York. "It feels much better when you're on this side of things."
With the Yankees coming to St. Petersburg on Monday, Tampa Bay will try to build momentum for that key three-game series with Price (16-5, 2.53 ERA) looking to bounce back from one of his worst starts of the season.
The left-hander lasted just four-plus innings in Monday's 6-5 loss at Texas, yielding six runs and 10 hits. Price had won a franchise-record eight consecutive decisions and was bidding for a 13th straight start of at least seven innings.
"It was just one of those days," he told the Rays' official website after his first loss since June 13. "Get back on it whenever I'm going next and get after it in Toronto."
That may not bode well for a Blue Jays team that probably wishes Price's passport issues earlier this week would have prevented him from joining the Rays on their final trip to Rogers Centre in 2012. The Cy Young Award candidate has won twice in Toronto this season and has a 2.27 ERA in winning his last five starts there.
Price is 11-2 with a 2.26 ERA in 14 career starts against the Blue Jays. His highest win total against any other team is seven versus Boston.
The Blue Jays finish this series with Ricky Romero (8-12, 5.50 ERA) attempting to end the longest single-season losing streak in club history.
Despite throwing seven strong innings Tuesday in the Bronx, the left-hander lost his 11th straight decision as the Blue Jays fell 2-1 to the Yankees. Romero has had his share of problems in posting a 7.16 ERA over 12 starts during the skid, but he has only gotten 14 runs of support in that stretch.
"I've been working hard all week, the guys, everyone has kind of been helping me out through this," he said. "I'm just going to build off of this."
If Romero can't do that, he may match the Blue Jays' second-longest string of defeats, set by Jesse Jefferson from Aug. 16, 1978-June 1, 1979. Tom Underwood set the team record nine days later with a 13th straight loss.
Rays right fielder Matt Joyce , who is 2 for 5 with a homer off Romero this season, is batting .355 (11 for 31) with a team-best three homers in Toronto in 2012 after going deep and driving in three Saturday.
Edwin Encarnacion , who has homered in each of the last two games to boost his career-high total to 36, is 3 for 6 with a home run off Price this year.
|Tampa Bay Rays|
|August 31, 2012||Sean Rodriguez||15-Day DL||Fractured right hand|
|August 28, 2012||Matt Joyce||Day-to-Day||Left game - strained left forearm|
|August 05, 2012||Ben Zobrist||Day-to-Day||Left game - upper back spasms|
|July 21, 2012||Luke Scott||15-Day DL||Right oblique strain|
|July 21, 2012||Luke Scott||15-Day DL||Right oblique strain|
|July 21, 2012||Alex Cobb||Day-to-Day||Left game - right knee contusion|
|Toronto Blue Jays|
|August 27, 2012||Henderson Alvarez||Day-to-Day||Left game - left shin contusion|
|August 27, 2012||Aaron Laffey||Day-to-Day||Left game - left calf contusion|
|August 26, 2012||Jose Bautista||15-Day DL||Left wrist inflammation|
|August 23, 2012||David Cooper||15-Day DL||Upper back soreness|
|August 22, 2012||David Cooper||Day-to-Day||Left game - jammed neck|
|August 19, 2012||David Cooper||Day-to-Day||Lower back tightness|
TORONTO (AP) -- Heading into a critical stretch of games with playoff implications, the Tampa Bay Rays are looking like contenders again.
David Price earned his AL-leading 17th victory with 6 2-3 solid innings and Ben Francisco homered in his first start for Tampa Bay as the Rays won their second straight to salvage a series split against the Toronto Blue Jays, 9-4 on Sunday.
The win capped a tough 3-4 road trip for the Rays that saw them drop several games by one run only to fall further behind the division-leading New York Yankees in the AL East.
"I'm really proud of the way we've handled all of these moments," manager Joe Maddon said. "I know we lost some really harsh games and it's easy to go away after those loses and we didn't go away."
Carlos Pena also homered as the Rays won their second straight and third in nine games, pulling within 3 1/2 games of the Yankees, who begin a three-game series at Tampa Bay on Monday.
"This is going to be a race to the end," outfielder B.J. Upton said. "We still got our work cut out for us but I think we're in a good position."
After the Yankees, the Rays will host the Texas Rangers before a visit to the Baltimore Orioles - two teams both in the playoff hunt.
"We have time to do this," Maddon said. "I know we believe that we can do this."
Price (17-5) gave up two runs, six hits and four walks while striking out five in a rebound game after a rare bad outing in Texas, where he was tagged by the Rangers for six runs and 10 hits.
The All-Star lefty is 9-1 in his last 14 starts overall and improved to 12-2 in his career against Toronto.
Price credited the Rays' offense for making it easy for him to get back on track.
"They've done a good job all year hitting for me, especially early in the game, it makes it a lot easier for me to go out there and try and pound the strike zone," he said. "The offense did a great job of putting up a lot of runs."
Blue Jays ace Ricky Romero (8-13) lost his 12th straight decision. He allowed a run in the first inning, then faced seven batters in the second and all of them reached base.
The Rays got to Romero with six runs in the big second, starting when Francisco - acquired in a trade with Houston on Friday - hit a solo shot over the left-field wall.
Romero walked Pena, Ryan Roberts doubled and Jose Molina hit an RBI single to shallow center field. Desmond Jennings singled to the exact same spot to make it 4-0.
Upton's routine fly ball became a single when right fielder Moses Sierra lost the ball in the sun and let it drop. With the bases loaded, Ben Zobrist hit a two-run single that ended Romero's day. An RBI grounder by Jeff Keppinger put the Rays ahead 7-0.
"Going through something like this, I would never wish upon anyone," Romero said. "It's tough. I've had advice from a lot of people, even from opponents, the guy who pitched against me today and their all-star third baseman, a lot of guys on other teams.
"(They say) `keep going, keep moving forward, you can't dwell on the past. It's going to turn around."'
Price had some trouble of his own in the second inning when he loaded the bases with walks to Adam Lind , Yunel Escobar and Mike McCoy , but the Jays failed to capitalize.
Pena sent the first pitch he saw in the third over the center-field wall for his 17th homer.
Tampa Bay did more damage in the fourth when Evan Longoria hit a ground-rule double, Keppinger singled and Francisco hit an RBI double.
Edwin Encarnacion hit a sacrifice fly in the seventh and Lind had an RBI single that finished Price.
Encarnacion hit his 37th homer, a two-run drive, in the ninth.
NOTES: Rays manager Joe Maddon says RHP Jeff Niemann , who left in the fourth inning of Saturday's game, is still day-to-day with a "general shoulder malaise." ... Tampa Bay will start RHP James Shields (12-8, 3.91 ERA) on Monday against Yankees LHP CC Sabathia (13-4, 3.40). Toronto opens a three-game homestand against the Baltimore Orioles on Labor Day.