ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays were still batting in the third inning Sunday when Blue Jays manager John Gibbons went to his bullpen. At that point, the Rays had three runs, six hits and the lead.
As omens go, that was a pretty good one for a team looking to complete a sweep of the AL East leaders.
Chris Archer's slider was doing its thing, and the Blue Jays' potent bats were largely silent. He pitched into the seventh inning. The Rays bullpen needed to pick up eight outs.
What could go wrong?
"It's one of those days," Brad Boxberger said. "You don't expect it to go that way."
Boxberger entered in the seventh and gave up the lead. Keven Jepsen came on in the eighth and gave up the game.
Tampa Bay lost 5-3, dropping its record to 58-77. Toronto, which entered the day tied atop the division with Boston, improved to 77-59 and avoided being swept for the second time this season by the last-place Rays.
With 17-game winner J.A. Happ gone in the third inning, the Blue Jays used five pitchers to get the final 19 outs. The Rays needed four to get the final eight.
"Their bullpen came in and did a really good job for them, and our bullpen came in and seemed to struggle a little bit," manager Kevin Cash said. "They got hits, they got walks, and then the big home run from Russell Martin."
Martin's two-run homer in the eighth on a 3-and-0 pitch from Jepsen with a runner on second was the difference as the Rays lost for the 13th time this season while leading after six innings.
It was a vexing day for players on both sides as the consistency of home plate umpire Pat Hoberg's strike zone was questioned.
Gibbons was ejected in the fourth inning after Martin, the Jays catcher, took a called third strike.
"It's the big leagues and the strike zone is really small," Archer said. "You've got to figure out a way to get strikes called or get them to swing the bat."
Archer was visibly annoyed with two pitches to Edwin Encarnacion in the third inning that appeared in the strike zone but weren't called strikes.
Cash called for Boxberger after Troy Tulowitzki singled with one out in the seventh. Boxberger allowed a single, a walk and a single to the first three batters he faced as the Jays rallied to tie the score at 3.
Boxberger, too, had some issues with Hoberg's strike zone.
"Definitely threw some pitches that I think everyone on both sides had some problems with, so it kind of changed some at-bats and changed that inning," Boxberger said.
Added catcher Bobby Wilson, "I thought he made some good pitches. He didn't get the benefit of it for whatever reason, and that's not to say they were missed or they were strikes. Sometimes you get those, sometimes you don't. He didn't unfortunately get those in that inning."
Jepsen entered in the eighth and fell behind all three batters he faced. He walked former Rays catcher Dioner Navarro to start the inning, then allowed Martin's homer.
"I know Jeppy is just trying to throw a strike right there," Wilson said. "It (stinks), but obviously walking the leadoff guy late in the game isn't something that's ideal."