LAKE BUENA VISTA — Though the three-game attendance was down slightly from last year, team president Matt Silverman insisted Thursday the Rays' second home-away-from-home series was still "a tremendous success."
It was a more clear analysis for manager Joe Maddon and the players, who rallied and hung on for a 5-3 win over Toronto, making for a series sweep and a perfect 6-0 record over two seasons at Disney's Champion Stadium.
"We've always played well here," starter Andy Sonnanstine said. "If we get to the playoffs, we'd love to play here."
On their first three-game winning streak, the Rays improved to 11-11, their most wins through 22 games since 1999 and just the fourth time they've been at .500 this late into a season.
Sonnanstine pitched well, and rookie Evan Longoria and free-agent find Eric Hinske again played key roles in the go-ahead rally, a three-run fifth. But the star the Rays were wishing most upon had to be Troy Percival, the 38-year-old previously retired closer who talked Maddon into letting him pitch and recorded a save (his 328th overall) for the third straight night.
"It's nice to have that kind of experienced anchor out there," Maddon said. "Now we've just got to take care of him. I really can't get carried away and use him too often, regardless of how eloquent he is in his appeals to pitch on a nightly basis. … But right now it's kinda nice when you can just catch the lead and say, 'Here, go for it.' "
Percival, who Maddon said won't be available tonight no matter what he says, opened the ninth by allowing a single and a walk (just his second and third baserunners of the season). After a fly out and stolen base put men on second and third with one out, he struck out Marco Scutaro and got David Eckstein to fly out.
"I love to be a part of it," Percival said.
While raving again about the experience and reception, Silverman said it hadn't been decided if the team would return as there are several variables involved.
"It's something that we'll consider," he said. "We will continue to make investments in Orlando and Central Florida to make them feel a part of the Rays, whether we play three games here next year, or the year after, or do something else. That commitment is there."
Thursday's attendance was 9,540, making for a three-game total of 26,798, a slight decrease (119 fewer fans) from last year's mid-May series total of 26,917, which included a high of 9,635. The Rays went up against the Magic's playoff games Tuesday (at home) and Thursday, and a Bruce Springsteen concert Wednesday.
The game featured some sloppy play. In the third, Toronto's Gregg Zaun dashed home from third after a bunt play seemed to be over as neither Rays catcher Dioner Navarro or Sonnanstine covered the plate. Jays starter Dustin McGowan walked five in a seven-batter stretch.
In the fifth, after Longoria — who is 0-for-12 against left-handed pitchers — hit a tying sacrifice fly to right off lefty Brian Tallet, the Jays messed up what could have been a double-play grounder by Hinske, and the Rays went ahead to stay.
"We went to Disney World," Maddon said. "It was nice."
Beat the rush
The Rays are expecting crowds in excess of 30,000 for this weekend's home games with the Red Sox, with the possibility of a sellout Saturday, and are advising fans to buy tickets in advance. See The Dish on 4C for ticket information.