TORONTO - It’s pretty much do-or-die time for the Toronto Blue Jays.
With just 68 games remaining on their schedule heading into Friday’s game and sitting 8 1/2 games out of a post-season spot, the Jays had to break fast from the second-half gate, especially over their next 10 games which will all be played at home.
“We need to do something quick, we really do,” manager John Gibbons said prior to Friday’s game versus the Tampa Bay Rays.
“Those teams ahead of us in our division are all playing good. We definitely have to play better baseball.”
The Jays started out playing better baseball, but for the first time in a long time the bullpen blew a tire and the result was an 8-5 loss to the Rays.
Up until the eighth, it was a battle of the long ball variety.
Jays starter Esmil Rogers was dinged for four while his teammates hammered three against Rays ace David Price.
Brett Lawrie would even things up with a solo shot in the ninth against Jake McGee.
The long ball, the Rays and Rogers, though, are no strangers as in his only other start against Tampa Bay, the Rays took him deep three times — not a trend Toronto was hoping for.
What really hurt was the fact that the final three bombs by Tampa Bay came after the Jays had taken a 4-1 lead.
In the eighth, the Rays went to small ball to pull ahead. And they did it against the Jays’ pair of all-star relievers in Brett Cecil and Steve Delabar.
Delabar relived Cecil after the lefty gave up a leadoff single.Tampa then came through with a sacrifice bunt by Sean Rodriguez on a 0-2 pitch that moved Kelly Johnson to second.
One out later, Ryan Roberts singled to left and Johnson raced home with the go-ahead run.
Roberts would later score on a double to left by Desmond Jennings.
The Rays tacked on two more runs in the ninth.
The two eighth-inning runs made a winner out of lefty Price, who upped his impressive career record versus Toronto to 13-2. He is also undefeated at the Rogers Centre, going 7-0 in eight career starts.
Catcher J.P. Arencibia launched the Jays into a 2-1 led in the third when he led off the inning with his 17th home run of the season. It was also the 59th of his career when catching, which places him in a tie with Darrin Fletcher for the second most homers by a Jays catcher. Ernie Whitt, with 131, holds the franchise lead.
One out later, Jose Reyes singled to right then stole second. On the next pitch, slugger Jose Bautista hammered a two-run homer to centre, No. 21 on the season, to pump the Jays lead to 4-1.
The Jays kept the pressure on, and with two outs had the bases loaded via a walk and two singles.
But, on a 3-2 pitch, Colby Rasmus, the lone left-handed hitter in the lineup Friday, popped up to third to end the inning. For Price, it was his big out of the game.
The Jays opened the scoring in the first courtesy of a two-out jack by Edwin Encarnacion, who teed off on a 0-1 pitch and drilled it into the second deck in left field. It was his 26th homer of the season.
For Steady Eddie, who was 5-for-23 (.217) on the six-game road trip before the break, it marked his third homer in his past four games. It also marked the third homer that Encarnacion has hit off of Price in his career in 31 at-bats.
The Rays tied it 1-1 in the third on a one-out home run by Ben Zobrist – his ninth of 2013 -- to right field.
After taking a 4-1 lead in the third, the Rays would bounce back to tie the game, 4-4, with three more solo bombs off Rogers.
Wil Myers led off the fourth with his four of the season and then in the sixth, Evan Longoria hit a monster shot off the windows in left just below the Ring of Excellence. Two outs later, former Jay, Johnson, tied it 4-4 with a homer to centre, his 14th of the campaign.
In the second inning, after the Jays opened a lead on Encarnacion’s homer, Myers opened with a double down the left-field line against Rogers. Johnson followed with a slow grounder to the right side of the infield that Lawrie chased down. Lawrie, though, dropped the ball and when he recovered his throw to first was too late, leaving runners on the corners due to his error. It was Lawrie’s third ever big-league game at second base, and that was his first error at the position. Third base, however, was as far as Myers would get as Rogers induced Matt Joyce to fly out to shallow left, Jose Molina lined out to Bautista in right and Roberts ended the inning after hitting a nubber in front of the plate that was fielded by Arencibia, who threw to first for the final out.