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Ben Zobrist's ninth-inning single gives Tampa Bay Rays second straight walkoff win over Blue Jays

ST. PETERSBURG — As much as these Rays don't want to be compared to last season's team, there are some scenes they don't mind repeating.

Eleven times in 2008 they raced onto the field to celebrate a walkoff win, and as they did it for the second straight night Wednesday, it started to look very familiar and feel very good.

All-Star Ben Zobrist (and doesn't that still sound a bit odd), who earlier had a three-run homer, singled in Carl Crawford with two outs in the ninth to give the Rays a 10-9 victory over the Blue Jays.

"It's big," Zobrist said. "It's big for us because we had a lot of those last year. It kind of creates a little bit of magic late in the game. In future games, you start thinking positively and you think you can win every game like that, which is a good thing. The more of those we have, the better."

Pat Burrell won Tuesday's game with a two-run homer; Wednesday's took a bit more of a team effort as they notched their fifth walkoff win of the season.

Crawford beat out a ground ball to shortstop for a one-out infield single, stole second (before Evan Longoria struck out) then third (before Carlos Peña walked).

Zobrist took a strike and two balls, then went the other way with a Scott Downs fastball and drove it over the second baseman's head. The result was a rush of teammates celebrating on the field and the obligatory shaving cream pie, courtesy of Dioner Navarro, who had three hits.

"He smoked me," Zobrist said. "Man, I think the shaving cream went through my ear into my head somewhere."

He and the rest of the Rays — who improved to 46-39 and stayed 5½ games behind first-place Boston in the AL East — won't have much time to recover, as Wednesday night's game ended at 11:14 and today's series finale starts at 12:08.

"What a game," manager Joe Maddon said. "If you're a fan, you were definitely entertained tonight. If you're a manager, you're on edge."

The teams traded runs through much of the long night, with five lead changes (including two three-run advantages the Rays lost) and 31 hits, as both starting pitchers, the Rays' Scott Kazmir (61/3 IP, 7 runs, 9 hits) and the Jays' Brian Tallet (3+ IP, 8 runs, 11 hits) struggled.

"I don't know who was pitching worse," Jays manager Cito Gaston said. "Both of them were lighting it up, that's for sure. It was … a race of who was going to get run out of there first."

Kazmir, in his third start since his mechanics-correcting DL stint, insisted it wasn't anywhere near as bad as it looked. "The way I felt, there really isn't any justice the way my line went," he said. "It feels like I pitched way, way better than that. It just feels like I haven't caught one break the entire year. It's bound. I'm due. … I feel like I may be getting all the bad luck out of my way for my entire career hopefully."

Kazmir had a couple of messy frames, and Grant Balfour didn't help in the seventh, as his 11-appearance, 13-inning scoreless streak ended. But Joe Nelson got a huge out by striking out Scott Rolen with two on to end the eighth, and J.P. Howell got the last three.

After scoring just 10 runs over their past five games (four losses), the Rays offense came back to life, as every starter had a hit, the biggest Zobrist's three-run homer (his 17th). But the most exciting run didn't need a hit, as B.J. Upton stole home in the first inning.

In all of last season's magic, the Rays didn't have back-to-back walkoff wins, something they'd done only three times in franchise history (most recently in 2006).

"When you win it late like that, at home, there's a lot of momentum to be built from that," Maddon said. "That was very significant."

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@sptimes.

Rays 10

Blue Jays 9

Ben Zobrist's ninth-inning single gives Tampa Bay Rays second straight walkoff win over Blue Jays 07/08/09 [Last modified: Thursday, July 9, 2009 12:39pm]
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