TORONTO — Too bad Tuesday's game wasn't on TV in the Tampa Bay market, because the Rays provided some pretty good programming in the 7-3 win over the Blue Jays: triumph, drama, mystery, achievement and personal redemption.
Carlos Peña was the leading man, hitting one long home run and another even longer one, extending his sizzling power streak and expanding his AL-leading mark to 37 and his career total to a milestone 200.
"Oh, man, I was pumped when I heard that," Peña said. "I was like, what? Two hundred home runs in the major leagues? It will take me a few minutes to count to 200. That's not, 1-2-3-4-5. It will take me a couple minutes to get there. …
"I'm very happy. To be able to be out there enough to do that, to me, it's an incredible blessing. Believe me, I'm so grateful for that. It is very cool to me. …
"Maybe to the rest of the world it is not 500, but to me it feels just like it."
James Shields played a key role, overcoming an unexpected absence of velocity and mechanical woes to battle into the seventh for his second win in the past two months, and the treat that came with it: a mysteriously smuggled-in Drumstick ice cream cone, typically contraband in the Rays' eat-healthy clubhouse.
Jason Bartlett led the supporting cast with three more hits to raise his average to .346, Pat Burrell had a couple of key hits and lefty relievers Randy Choate and Brian Shouse each got what manager Joe Maddon labeled "huge" outs during some late-game plot twists.
The ensemble work — despite the absence of Carl Crawford, still sidelined by back problems — wasn't bad, either, as the Rays improved to a season-high 13 games over .500 at 69-56 and held their ground in the AL wild-card race, staying three games behind the Red Sox and 1½ behind the Rangers, who both won.
"Just a good team effort," Shields said.
Maddon made sure to heap praise on Shields, who has been the victim of both bad circumstance and luck, improving to just 8-10 despite a respectable 3.81 ERA.
"He didn't have his best stuff and he got deep into the game, and that was beautiful," Maddon said.
But the spotlight was deservedly on Peña, whose 11 August homers — with five games left — are the most in the majors, and two shy of his team record for any month (September 2007.)
Peña is criticized for his low batting average, .223, and AL-high strikeout total, 151, as well as the novelty of having more homers (37) than singles (35), with the chance to join Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds as the only major-leaguers to do so with at least 30 of each.
But with the relentless work Peña is putting in with hitting coach Steve Henderson — "He just looks different," Maddon said; "I wish I could put (the differences) in one line," Peña said — and the results he is now getting, with six homers in his past five games and 11 in 17, not so much.
"Guys like him are normally a bit streaky," Maddon said, noting how hitters like that build up numbers, go cold for a while then rebuild.
"It's just who he is, it's what he is, and we'll take it," Maddon said. "He seems to pick the right times to get hot."
Peña, whose career was rejuvenated when he signed a minor-league deal with the Rays in 2007 and has hit 114 in the three seasons since, said there are better episodes to come.
"All I know is work, work, work, work, work," he said. "So it is my wish that I can keep contributing to this cause."
Marc Topkin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org