Romero tops Rays with one-hit gem

Blue Jays starter Ricky Romero pitches against the Rays in St. Petersburg, Fla., Aug. 2, 2011....

Blue Jays starter Ricky Romero pitches against the Rays in St. Petersburg, Fla., Aug. 2, 2011. (STEVE NESIUS/Reuters)

KEN FIDLIN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:28 PM ET

ST. PETERSBURG, FLA. - Okay, so it’s not exactly heart-stopping drama. You really have to doubt whether Toronto Blue Jays starter Ricky Romero spent a sleepless night Monday in anticipation of this, ah, third-place weekday showdown against the Tampa Bay Rays.

But it’s the best carrot the Jays can find these days and this has been a Toronto team that can find motivation in just about any situation. It's a trait that will no doubt one day pay them big dividends.

This weekend, they’ll settle for a modest payoff if they can slip past Tampa into third place in the American League East.

They took a step in that direction Tuesday at Tropicana Field with a 3-1 victory behind a one-hit, eight-inning pitching performance by Romero. In the process, they did something they’ve never before accomplished: they beat Tampa ace David Price, who had gone 8-0 in nine previous starts against Toronto.

Third place isn’t exactly where the Jays want to be long-term. But it's a weigh-station on the road to contention. They now sit a half-game behind Tampa and would need to sweep this series to put the Rays behind them.

“We set out in spring training to continue to build on the momentum of a year ago,” said Jays manager John Farrell before the game. “We didn’t point to a spot in the standings as something that would reflect that but, certainly, this is a series where we come in knowing they’re the next team ahead of us and it would be a step forward to play well.”

The only hit allowed by Romero was a sixth-inning home run by Tampa rookie Desmond Jennings that cut into what had been a 2-0 Toronto lead at the time. On the night, Romero walked four and hit a batter but pitched himself out of every sticky situation.

“I didn’t realize (that I had a no-hitter) until after Jennings hit the home run,” said Romero. “I was like, ‘Man, I didn’t even know I was pitching a no-hitter.’ That was my bad. (Jays catcher) J.P. (Arencibia) called a different pitch and I shook to it. If I make the pitch that was called, maybe it’s down and he grounds out. But it wasn’t meant to happen.”

Price gave up five hits and walked a pair, failing to dominate the Toronto lineup as he normally does.

Neither team had a hit until the fourth inning when Toronto's Jose Bautista had a big one, mashing his 32nd home run, his first in the last 15 games (46 at-bats). With one out in the inning, Bautista redirected a 2-0 fastball into the seats in left-centre.

“All I’ve wanted to do is contribute and I’ve been getting my RBIs and getting on base,” said Bautista, unconcerned about his homer drought. “All I can do is hit it hard. I can’t control if it goes over the fence or not.”

Two innings later, Toronto's Yunel Escobar launched his 10th homer of the year, taking a 1-0 Price fastball out of the yard in right field.

In the seventh, after Toronto's Travis Snider’s two-out steal of second base, Rajai Davis drove him in with a double to give the Jays a two-run cushion.

Earlier, in the second inning, Romero issued two walks and hit a batter to load the bases with nobody out. The lefty struck out the next two men before inducing an inning-ending groundout.

“He didn’t let the early frustration linger,” said Farrell. “He had a high pitch-count after two but then got some quick outs and low-pitch innings that allowed him to get into the eighth. But, most of all, he didn’t let that early frustration take him out of his game.”

Unfortunately, Romero needed 33 pitches in that second inning, extra work that probably deprived him of pitching his fourth complete game of the season. He handed the ball off to Jon Rauch after eight innings and 109 pitches.

The Rays put the tying runs on base with a pair of singles in the ninth, but Rauch pitched his way out of it to preserve the win.

The Dusty road back

Jays pitcher Dustin McGowan took a momentary pause to restart his rehab assignment in the minors and is now on a path that will, with continued good health, land him in Toronto in September.

“He’s back in the flow of things,” said Farrell. “He’ll make one start in Florida and then he’ll join New Hampshire at that point. So he’s making solid progress.

“Once we get through the month of August, he’s looking at coming back here and continuing his pitching (in the big leagues).”

McGowan has started six games for Class A Dunedin. In his first game he had a rough outing, allowing three runs in 2/3 of an inning. Since then, he has allowed two earned runs in 12 innings. Most recently, he pitched a three-inning start on July 25.


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