Close one: Rays hang on to beat Blue Jays 9-8

The Blue Jays threatened in the bottom of the frame. After Travis Snider doubled to lead off and moved to third on a one-out single by Escobar, Jose Bautista waged a 15-pitch war with Shields. He eventually flied out to right field; Zobrist made a great throw to home and Shoppach easily took care of Snider, who’d tagged and was charging home, trying to score.

[image-1]Upton led off the fourth inning by blasting the first pitch into the second deck of left field. Three straight outs made it 8-1 through three and a half innings. Toronto came back for two more in the bottom of the frame. Lyle Overbay got aboard with a one-out base hit and scored on a home run by Adam Lind. They tacked on another two-spot in the fifth. Escobar reached for the third time of the evening and was driven home by Bautista, crushing his major league-leading 45th home run. Just like that, it was 8-5 Tampa Bay, with Toronto knocking on the door; not exactly a secure margin against this hard-hitting Toronto team.

With the Rays doing nothing on offense and the Blue Jays continually chipping away, the game had a somewhat ominous feel coming into the bottom of the seventh inning. Sure enough, Rays reliever Randy Choate – in for his uncharacteristic second inning – yielded a lead-off homer to John Buck and voila, it’s 8-6. He then gave up a walk to DeWayne Wise, finally getting the yank in favor of Chad Qualls. Qualls got Escobar to ground out to first and was subsequently pulled in favor of Joaquin Benoit, with Bautista due up. Benoit ended up throwing a free strike, as Bautista stepped out of the batter’s box but was not granted time by plate umpire Chad Fairchild. Don’t make Bautista angry; you wouldn’t like him when he’s angry (hell, I don’t like him when he’s happy, the asshole still hits home runs). Sure enough, he cracked his second two-run homer of the night on the next pitch he saw, tying this game 8-8 through seven innings.

Tampa Bay regained the lead in the top of the ninth without the benefit of picking up a hit. After Crawford flied out in the lead-off spot, Longoria and Pena each drew walks. Rodriguez grounded into a fielder’s choice that should have been a 3-6-3 double play. Pena was thrown out at second but Rodriguez was safe at first on a throwing error by the shortstop Escobar. Longoria had advanced to third and went home when he saw the goings-on toward first base.

That would be enough to win it. Rafael “MFIKY” Soriano came on in the ninth and struck out the side, picking up his 42nd save of the year. Joaquin Benoit got the win as the pitcher of record and Shields took a no-decision. Jimmy had allowed five runs on seven hits, striking out four while walking none.

Whew! It is safe to wipe the fake sweat off my brow now, right? Credit this tough Toronto club (not in playoff contention) for turning what looked early on like an ass-whuppin’ into an agonizing nail-biter victory. Somebody spike Bautista’s water with Ex-Lax so he’ll be home with the runs instead of hitting home runs… Eh? Yes? Whatever, I’m ashamedly proud of that one. I’ll be even more proud of any Rays fan that pulls that off. I Kid! I Kid! But seriously… If, by the wonders of recording – look kids, a VCR; how quaint, I manage to see the Rays game after the USF vs. UF showdown in the Swamp. I will gladly talk to you about it. Assuming I’m conscious enough to make intelligible sentences. I wonder if I can slur when I type…

Wow…with as many empty, blue seats as I saw in Toronto’s Rogers Centre, I almost forgot this was an away game. It reminded me so much of watching games televised from Tropicana Field.

It was clear from the start that the Tampa Bay Rays were not in the mood to mess around. B.J. Upton led off the first inning with a solid base hit but was thrown out at second on Jason Bartlett’s fielder’s choice. Bartlett scored easily on Carl Crawford’s triple; CC in turn crossed the plate on a base hit by Evan Longoria. Sean Rodriguez walked, following a Carlos Pena strikeout, and scored, along with Longoria, on a double By Rocco Baldelli. Rocco added another tally to Ben Zobrist’s home run. The Rays sent all nine men to the plate in the bottom of the first frame, giving Rays starter James Shields a six-run lead to play with.

Toronto cut the lead by a run in the home half of the first. Yunel Escobar reached on an error charged to Longoria and moved to second on a wild pitch by Shields. He scored on a base hit by Vernon Wells. Zobrist should have caught Escobar at home but his throw to catcher Kelly Shoppach was off-line.

Tampa Bay got that run back in the top of the second; Bartlett crossed the plate after doubling and moving to third when Crawford reached on error. Evan’s base hit to center allowed JB to score easily, giving Longo his second hit and second RBI in as many innings.

Toronto’s starter Brett Cecil was yanked after walking Baldelli to lead off the third. He had thrown a mere 54 pitches and failed to record an out in the frame. Manager Cito Gaston came out to deliver the bad news and reliever Josh Roenicke elicited a double play from Zobrist to erase the base runner. Shoppach struck out to end the frame. Shit… and I was just starting to like Cecil.

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