Manager Joe Maddon figured bringing a reptile into his team's clubhouse would spark the struggling Tampa Bay Rays in their pursuit to regain the AL East lead.
What he'll do to try and prevent Toronto Blue Jays starter R.A. Dickey from another stellar performance at Tropicana Field remains to be seen.
Tampa Bay looks to beat visiting Toronto for the fourth straight time as the clubs begin a three-game set Friday night.
Maddon, whose club had lost six straight prior to beating Seattle 5-4 on Wednesday, presented his team with a 20-foot python prior to Thursday's series finale, with most players avoiding touching the snake."In doing our research, my personal research, 2013 happens to be the year of the snake on the Chinese calendar," Maddon said. "We needed a little bit of motivation within the clubhouse. And then furthermore, you find out that it's representative of risk taking and creative thinking. I thought it fit in perfectly with what we're trying to do around here."
The Rays (68-51) went out and earned a 7-1 victory over the Mariners behind a two-run homer from Evan Longoria and four RBIs from rookie Wil Myers . They pulled within two games of the East lead as Toronto beat first-place Boston 2-1 earlier in the night.
Maddon may need to pull some more unusual tactics with Dickey (9-11, 4.46 ERA) pitching on the road, especially at Tropicana Field.
The last time knuckleballer pitched in St. Petersburg, he tossed a two-hitter and beat the Rays 3-0 on June 26. He's 2-1 with a 2.15 ERA in four career starts at Tampa Bay, including a one-hitter with only one unearned run allowed in the ninth inning of a 9-1 victory while pitching for the New York Mets on June 13, 2012.
Dickey is 5-5 with a 3.08 ERA on the road compared to a 5.79 ERA in Toronto. He has a 3.86 ERA during a 10-start streak overall of pitching at least six innings after allowing three runs in seven frames before the Blue Jays (56-65) fell 6-4 to Oakland on Sunday.
"That's what I always (try) to do," said Dickey, 1-0 with a 1.74 ERA in his last three outings. "Every time out, I try to throw a quality start."
The Blue Jays have scored two runs or fewer in three of their last four, but they'll look to bust out against Tampa starter Jeremy Hellickson , who is trying to end a dismal stretch.
Hellickson (10-6, 4.93) has lost three straight starts while posting a 9.75 ERA after giving up four runs and seven hits in three innings of Sunday's 8-2 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers . He's pitched fewer than five innings in each outing during his skid after going 6-0 with a 2.09 ERA over his previous seven starts."I'm not pitching well," Hellickson said. "The last two weeks have been very frustrating, but I'll be OK."
The right-hander has been solid against the Blue Jays this season, though, going 2-0 with a 2.52 ERA in four starts. He won the last two, giving up one hit in seven innings of a 4-1 victory June 24 before allowing two runs in five frames of a 4-3 win July 20.
Hellickson is 2-1 with a 1.80 ERA in four career home starts versus Toronto, but Jose Bautista is 8 for 21 (.391) with three homers lifetime against him.
|Toronto Blue Jays|
|August 12, 2013||Colby Rasmus||15-Day DL||Left oblique strain|
|August 10, 2013||Juan Perez||60-Day DL||Torn UCL ligament, left elbow|
|August 07, 2013||Josh Johnson||15-Day DL||Strained right forearm|
|August 03, 2013||Steve Delabar||15-Day DL||Right shoulder inflammation|
|August 02, 2013||Melky Cabrera||15-Day DL||Left knee strain|
|July 30, 2013||Dustin McGowan||15-Day DL||Strained right oblique|
|Tampa Bay Rays|
|August 04, 2013||Desmond Jennings||15-Day DL||Fractured left middle finger|
|August 02, 2013||Brandon Guyer||15-Day DL||Fractured right middle finger|
|July 29, 2013||Matt Moore||15-Day DL||Left elbow soreness|
|June 30, 2013||Jesse Crain||15-Day DL||Sprained right shoulder|
|June 28, 2013||Evan Longoria||Day-to-Day||Plantar fasciitis, left foot|
|June 16, 2013||Alex Cobb||60-Day DL||Concussion|
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) -- Catcher Jose Lobaton had a game-ending triple, two RBIs and a big RBO for the Tampa Bay Rays on Friday night in a 5-4 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays.
Runs Blocked Out. Rays manager Joe Maddon used to keep track of them when he managed in the minor leagues.
With the potential go-ahead run on third base in the ninth inning, Lobaton blocked a pitch in the dirt keeping the Maicer Izturis on third.
"I hope I can keep blocking and making triples," said Lobaton, who was showered with Gatorade, a whipped-cream pie and even ice cream after driving in Yunel Escobar with his opposite-field triple.
"I didn't know I got ice cream for triples," he said. "I'll hit more triples, but I'm happy with doubles."
Maddon, an ex-catcher, was most happy with the block of Fernando Rodney 's pitch in the dirt.
"When (pitchers) are not confident in their catcher to be able to do that, then that's when they hang pitches," he said. "But when was the last time you heard of a catcher hitting a walk-off triple?"
Lobaton's triple came off Aaron Loup (4-6) after Escobar walked. Lobaton had three hits in the Rays' third straight win, which pulled them to within one game of the AL-East leading Boston Red Sox.
Rodney (5-3) gave up two hits to start the ninth but worked out of the jam, one of Toronto's many squandered chances. The Blue Jays had 13 hits, including leadoff hits in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings, but left 11 men on base.
"We had the lead, we gave it up," said Toronto manager John Gibbons . "Had plenty of opportunities, couldn't get it done. That's why they're at the top and we're at the bottom. It's pretty simple."
The Blue Jays had tied it in the eighth when, with runners on second and third and one out, Anthony Gose hit a grounder to shortstop. Escobar's throw was off line to home plate and Brett Lawrie scored.
In his fifth start this season against Tampa Bay, R.A. Dickey gave up six hits and four runs over seven innings. He had pitched a two-hit shutout here on June 26.
Adam Lind , Edward Encarnacion and Gose drove in runs against Jeremy Hellickson to put Toronto up, 3-1. Playing in his first game since being recalled up from Triple-A Buffalo, Gose bounced a two-out single up the middle after a triple by Josh Thole .
Matt Joyce cut the Blue Jays' lead to 3-2 with a home run off Dickey in the sixth. It was Joyce's first home run since June 15, ending a career-long span of 43 homerless games.
"I feel like it's been years. I almost forgot what that felt like," said Joyce. "Dickey was tough. You're just trying to stay on it as long as possible and hopefully you run into one. It kind of got us going a little bit."
Escobar and Sam Fuld drove in runs to lift the Rays to a 4-3 lead in the seventh, chasing Dickey.
"Tonight for me was tough because I had a good knuckleball," Dickey said. "This is a good place for me. It's not often you give up eight baserunners and four of them score. A very bizarre night. We should have won that game in regulation."
Hellickson pitched six innings, giving up nine hits and three earned runs.
"I gave `em a chance to win," said Hellickson, who is 0-3 in his last four starts. "It's amazing what these guys can do when you keep `em within striking distance."
Izturis had three of Toronto's 13 hits. The Blue Jays led off each of the last three innings with hits, but left 11 men on base.
NOTES: Only two other catchers (Cincinnati's Dioner Navarro and Minnesota's Ryan Doumit ) have hit walk-off triples since 1994, and both were within the last year. ... The Blue Jays activated LHP J.A. Happ from the bereavement list and placed INF Munenori Kawasaki on the paternity list. Happ, Saturday night's scheduled starter, was hit in the head by Desmond Jennings ' drive on May 7, and will be pitching for the first time at Tropicana Field since getting hurt. ... Wil Myers was the Rays' DH for the second consecutive game. Regular DH Luke Scott is out of the lineup due to back spasms. ... Toronto RHP Steve Delabar (shoulder) resumed playing catch. ... Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon is hopeful that Jennings (broken left middle finger) will return next week.