ST. PETERSBURG — Manager Joe Maddon said you have to "take what you can get" when facing Jays All-Star ace Roy Halladay.
But even Maddon had to marvel at how the Rays' five-run sixth-inning rally Saturday night was sparked.
Rookie Evan Longoria may have delivered the biggest blast in the Rays' 6-4 victory — his first grand slam — but the crux of chasing Halladay from the game came due to three interesting infield hits.
Between Akinori Iwamura's bunt single, Carl Crawford's controversial slow roller and Carlos Pena's blooper to left-center, singer MC Hammer likely hit the ball harder in his pregame batting practice session.
But the Rays ended up needing every last one of those breaks — and three relievers in the ninth inning — as the Jays scored four and brought the tying run to the plate before Dan Wheeler closed the door before a crowd of 32,669.
And after closing the chapter on a seven-game losing streak, the Rays (57-39) have now won two straight, putting them 11/2 games ahead of the Red Sox in the American League East.
"I think that just goes back to what we were doing in the first half: winning games any way we can," Longoria said. "To get the first run with a bloop hit … we get a break with C.C. rolling over on one and it stays fair. We were fortunate enough to capitalize on the breaks."
The Rays' biggest break came on Crawford's single in the sixth. With two runners on, the star leftfielder's swinging bunt rolled along the first-base line. Halladay hovered over the ball as it toed the line, then picked it up just as it seemingly hit a pebble on the dirt instead of rolling foul. The ball was called fair by plate umpire Mike DiMuro, loading the bases before Longoria's slam.
"He just missed the call," Jays manager Cito Gaston said. "I don't know how he missed it."
The Rays didn't need much run support thanks to another stellar start by Matt Garza (8-5). The hard-throwing right-hander threw 72/3 shutout innings, giving up just two hits. Garza left with two outs in the eighth, and received a standing ovation, having picked up his sixth quality start in his past seven outings.
Maddon called Garza "spectacular," pointing to the command of his fastball and use of his curve.
"I was just trying to match (Halladay) out for out," Garza said. "I'm making my pitches when I need to."
Halladay was on top of his game until the sixth, when Longoria cracked him with one of his most memorable at-bats. In the 10-pitch at-bat, Longoria fouled two pitches off his left ankle, wincing in pain trying to walk off the second one.
On the next pitch, Longoria snapped an 0-for-15 slump, ripping a 394-foot blast to leftfield. Cliff Floyd added an insurance run on a homer in the eighth, but Longoria's battle stole the show.
"Definitely one of my prouder at-bats," said Longoria, who was 3-for-23 with no RBIs in his previous seven games. "Even just to get a hit off that guy … to have my first grand slam off him is special."
Joe Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org