There was some concern before the off days that the All Star break might slow down the streaking Rays, that the time away from the field was the last thing a team clicking on all cylinders wanted to see. Fear not, the Rays are still on fire. Sunday, they finished the series sweep of their division rivals, the Toronto Blue Jays, with rookie Chris Archer defeating reigning Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey 4-3.
The Rays have had their share of troubles with Dickey in the past and an early 1-0 Jays lead gave Rays fans an early reason to worry. But Evan Longoira homered in the fourth inning to tie the game at one on a first pitch fastball that Longoria muscled over the right field wall. Luke Scott, despite being a little under the weather, continued to ignite the Rays offense by belting a sixth inning 2-run home run to give the Rays a 3-1 lead and Kelly Johnson followed up by launching a solo shot on the next pitch, an insurance run that would later prove pivotal.
Archer looked a lot like the pitcher that closed out the first half with a complete game shut out of the lowly Houston Astros but the more potent Blue Jays line up did force the young right hander to work a little harder. The Jays scored early in the second inning as Dickey's personal catcher, Josh Thole doubled with two outs to drive in the first run of the game. With two on and two outs in the inning, Thole took an up and away fastball from Archer deep to left field and over the head of a hustling Sam Fuld who just missed making a spectacular diving grab. Fuld had been playing shallow in left as Thole is a lefty without much pop. Luckily for the Rays, the ball bounced into the stands causing Macier Izturis to have to stop at third base. With runners now at second and third, Archer would retire Brett Lawrie to end the threat.
Archer did not allow another run as the scattered five hits over seven innings while striking out just one. The biggest moment for Archer would come in the bottom of the sixth as he put the first two batters on with a hit by pitch and a bases on balls. After two quick outs, Josh Thole would come up again and this time Archer walked him to load the bases but another inning ending pop out by Lawrie again silenced the Jays rally.
With Joel Peralta unavailable to pitch after two straight high leverage outings, Jamey Wright came in to work the eighth inning, protecting a three run lead. Wright proved up to the task, allowing a single to Adam Lind before striking out Cabrera, Izturis and getting Rasmus with a pop up. However, things would get rather interesting in the bottom of the ninth.
Fernando Rodney entered the game tied for second all time in franchise saves at 71, and a series closing save would move him into second alone. It would not prove easy, however. Rodney started out shaky and walked Thole to begin the inning. The next batter, Lawrie, who had a tough day at the plate, caught a break as he hit a sharp ground ball to the hole between third and shortstop. Shortstop Ben Zobrist probably had an easy play on the ball but Longoria gave a max effort dive to stop the ball but popped up and completely missed his relay to second base, instead launching the ball into right field and giving the Jays runners on the corners with no outs--a rare misplay for the gold glove third baseman. A two strike double to the gap in right by Jose Reyes would send both runners home and shrink the Rays lead to just one and get the Rays fans clenching as Jose Bautistua strolled to the plate.
Rodney would bear down, however, as he struck out Bautista with a 99-mph fastball. A 100-mph fastball then induced a ground out from Edwin Encarnacion before a walk to Adam Lind again put runners on the corners for the Jays. With the game hanging in the balance, Rodney stayed completely away from his change up, challenging the Jays hitters with his fastball. Cabrera saw six pitches in his final at bat with all of them being heaters registered at 99, 98, 100, 100 100, and 99, the last of which resulted in a ground out to third and the 72nd save of Fernando Rodney's Rays career.
It was tight, and much closer than it should have been, but a series sweep on the road against a division foe is always sweet. The Rays are now a blistering 20-4 in their last 24 games and will head to Boston tomorrow at worst 1.5 games back of the Red Sox. The four game series could potentially see the Rays in first place in July for the first time since 2010 and set up an exciting run for the rest of the year.
The Red Sox face New York tonight in Fenway with C.C. Sabathia facing off against Ryan Dempster. This feels weird, but, lets go Yankees!