A recent offensive surge has helped the Tampa Bay Rays remain a serious contender for an AL postseason spot.
Looking for a fifth consecutive victory, the Rays try to complete a series sweep Sunday by continuing their home dominance of the Toronto Blue Jays.
Desmond Jennings went 3 for 3 with a homer and Evan Longoria added a three-run shot as Tampa Bay (82-70) rolled to an 11-5 win Saturday. Sitting 3 1/2 games out of the final wild-card spot, the Rays have recorded 31 hits while outscoring Toronto 23-6 through the first two games of the set."We have to have another one-game winning streak (Sunday)," manager Joe Maddon said. "Anxiety lives in the future. You've got to stay in the present."
Tampa Bay ranks near the bottom of the majors with a .241 batting average, but has hit .381 with nine homers while holding a 43-13 scoring advantage during its four-game run. Jennings is 8 for 18 with five RBIs during that stretch while Longoria is 6 for 15."It seems like we've been having more fun," Longoria said. "That's probably the biggest thing. It's really all about the belief that you can score runs, and we didn't have that for a while. It seems like it's back now."
After securing their 17th consecutive winning home series against the Blue Jays (66-84), the Rays will try for an eighth straight home victory over Toronto. Tampa Bay has averaged 5.1 runs while winning 36 of 46 over the Blue Jays at Tropicana Field."I can only speak to the last two years," said Toronto manager John Farrell , whose team has dropped five in a row and nine of 11 overall. "We've been in some close games here late in games where they've hit a ball out of the ballpark or scored some runs late. They're a good team."
The Rays might have a good chance to continue that dominance against Chad Jenkins (0-1, 4.91 ERA), who makes his first major league start in the finale.
Jenkins, who has made his first 10 major league appearances out of the bullpen, went 4-9 with a 4.96 ERA in 20 starts for Double-A New Hampshire before being called up Aug. 5. The right-hander has a 2.25 ERA in two outings versus Tampa Bay.
The Rays counter with Jeremy Hellickson (8-10, 3.31), who is 0-2 with a 3.46 ERA in his last five starts while receiving an average of 2.77 runs of support. The right-hander allowed three runs and struck out seven while throwing 94 pitches in four innings of a 7-5 loss to Boston on Tuesday.
Hellickson is 1-2 with a 2.84 ERA against the Blue Jays this season.
Toronto slugger Edwin Encarnacion , who had an RBI on Saturday, is 5 for 14 with two doubles and a homer versus Hellickson.
Blue Jays shortstop Yunel Escobar went 0 for 4 after being back in the starting lineup two days following the conclusion of his three-game suspension for wearing eye-black displaying an anti-gay slur written in Spanish. He is batting .207 (6 for 29) at Tropicana Field in 2012.
|Toronto Blue Jays|
|September 16, 2012||Edwin Encarnacion||Day-to-Day||Sore right big toe|
|September 04, 2012||J.A. Happ||15-Day DL||Fractured right foot|
|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|
|Tampa Bay Rays|
|September 11, 2012||Ryan Roberts||Day-to-Day||Left game - strained left forearm|
|September 08, 2012||Desmond Jennings||Day-to-Day||Lower back stiffness|
|September 07, 2012||David Price||Day-to-Day||Left shoulder soreness|
|August 31, 2012||Sean Rodriguez||15-Day DL||Fractured right hand|
|August 31, 2012||Sean Rodriguez||15-Day DL||Fractured right hand|
|August 28, 2012||Matt Joyce||Day-to-Day||Left game - strained left forearm|
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) -- The Tampa Bay Rays kept their wild card hopes alive with the help of J.P. Howell's dog Rosie.
The Rays relief pitcher gave credit to his Portuguese water dog Sunday after making a spectacular defensive play in the seventh inning to help Tampa Bay hang on for a 3-0 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays and remain 3 1/2 games behind Oakland.
The Athletics beat the New York Yankees , 5-4, to maintain their lead in the chase for the second AL wild-card spot.
"That's the play of the year," said manager Joe Maddon after the Rays' fifth straight win. "It's an impossible play to make and (Howell) did it."
The Rays led 1-0 in the seventh inning, but Toronto's Anthony Gose was on third base with two out when Colby Rasmus hit a blooper past the mound. The left-handed Howell ran it down and threw across his body to get the out at first base.
"I wrestle with my dog a lot so that's good; it gets me that angle to just throw it," Howell said. "The position guys do it all the time so I probably made it look harder than it really is. It's one of those things where the timing was good; if the guy's a little faster he beats that out so everything worked out. A little luck was included."
B.J. Upton hit his eighth home run in 14 games for the Rays and Jeremy Hellickson won for the first time since August 20.
Hellickson (9-10) pitched 5 2-3 innings, giving up five hits and two walks while striking out six. The right-hander has given up only 16 runs in his last eight starts, but has won only two of them.
When Hellickson saw Rasmus' infield blooper get past Howell, he figured Toronto had tied it and another win had gotten away.
"You see it land and you know the second baseman doesn't have a prayer," Hellickson said, "and then he made an incredible play on it."
Fernando Rodney pitched the ninth inning for his 44th save after Evan Longoria 's two-run double had stretched Tampa Bay's lead to 3-0 in the eighth.
Upton's 26th home run came off Chad Jenkins , who was making his first major league start.
Jenkins (0-2) worked five innings, giving up only one hit after Upton's first-inning home run.
Yunel Escobar had three hits for the Blue Jays, who have lost six straight and 10 of 12.
"We had opportunities in the fifth, sixth and seventh," said Toronto manager John Farrell . "A two-out hit was elusive, and in the end we're sitting there with a goose egg on the board."
It was the 15th shutout of the season for the Rays, who are running out of time as they head for a six-game road trip starting Tuesday in Boston.
"There's definitely a spark of life," said Howell. "You can hear our heartbeat going. Put a little pressure on `em and hopefully they fold; that's what we're trying to do."
The Rays were six games out of a playoff spot before their current win streak.
"This road trip is pretty important, but we're not going to put any pressure on ourselves," said Upton. "We're going to have some fun with it and see what happens."
NOTES: The Rays won the season series, 14-4, and have won 17 straight home series against Toronto. ... Rays C Stephen Vogt went 0 for 2 in his first major league start as a position player, and is 0 for 21 on the season. ... Rodney is only one save shy of the club record set by Rafael Soriano in 2010. ... In the four games preceding Sunday, the Rays scored 43 runs, the most they have ever scored over a four-game span.