ST. PETERSBURG, FLA. - The streak came to a halt Monday with a bang and a mournful whimper.
The bang — actually, three of them — came in the second inning as the Tampa Bay Rays pounded Blue Jays pitcher Esmil Rogers for three consecutive solo home runs on their way to a 4-1 victory.
The whimper was the meek resistance offered by the vaunted Blue Jays offence that had outscored opponents 102-53 in winning 15 of their previous 18 games, including the past 11 in a row. Soft-tossing Jeremy Hellickson, who teased the Jays over seven shutout innings, had the right stuff on this night, limiting Toronto to one measly single up the middle in the second inning off the bat of catcher J.P. Arencibia.
After all the euphoria that surrounded their run back from the depths of the American League East over the past two weeks, the Jays find themselves once more alone in last place, a game back of the Rays, still looking to break out of a streak of another kind.
The Tampa victory perpetuates a mystifying six-year trend for the Jays at Tropicana Field. Since they beat the Rays in a three-game series at the start of the 2007 season, Toronto has not won another series in 18 tries. They need to win both Tuesday and Wednesday’s games or the futility will reach 19 consecutive series. During that span, including Monday’s game, Tampa Bay has won 42 of 56 games at home against Toronto.
During the 11-game win streak, a span of 100 innings, the Blue Jays trailed at the end of only seven innings and five of those innings came in the very first win of the streak in Chicago on June 11 when the White Sox led from the fourth inning to the end of the eighth. In the final 92 innings of the streak, they trailed at the end of only two innings.
That bubble burst in the second inning when James Loney, rookie Wil Myers and light-hitting Sam Fuld took Rogers over the wall, back-to-back-to-back in one nine-pitch sequence.
The Rays made it 4-0 in the third inning, combining a Matt Joyce single with a Ben Zobrist groundout and an RBI-double by Luke Scott.
Rogers settled himself down and didn’t allow a run over his final 32/3 innings of work, but his teammates, so prolific at the plate in June, had no answer for Hellickson.
They fared a little better against reliever Alex Torres in the eighth inning when Emilio Bonifacio reached on a one-out infield single and pinch-hitter Mark DeRosa walked. Melky Cabrera’s looping single into left loaded the bases. Bonifacio scored on a fielder’s choice groundball by Jose Bautista, but the rally fizzled when Edwin Encarnacion, representing the potential tying run, hit a lazy flyball to right for the third out. Fernando Rodney came out of the bullpen in the ninth for his 16th save.