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Rays rally by Jays, cap winning road trip

Carlos Pena, right, gets a high-five from Eric Hinske after tying it with a homer in the fourth.

Associated Press

Carlos Pena, right, gets a high-five from Eric Hinske after tying it with a homer in the fourth.

TORONTO — There were a lot of good signs for the Rays in Wednesday's 3-2 win over the Blue Jays.

Some were obvious, such as Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena continuing their much-anticipated hot streaks. Some were subtle, such as Edwin Jackson trying a pickoff play in the midst of a jam and B.J. Upton executing a sacrifice bunt.

Some comforting, such as closer Troy Percival protecting a one-run lead with a 1-2-3 ninth. Some encouraging, such as trade talks with Pittsburgh that could land All-Star outfielder Jason Bay by today's 4 p.m. trade deadline. (And at least one concerning, as the Yankees beefed up again with the addition of catcher Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez.)

But biggest was the most basic, a 4-3 record on the weeklong road trip that sent them home feeling they were back to playing as they did until the final week before the All-Star break.

"We're getting the same quality pitching, better defense and maybe a timely hit or two," manager Joe Maddon said. "It's kind of like what we looked like when things were going well in the first half."

The Rays (63-44) left for Kansas City with a half-game lead over Boston in the AL East and came back from Toronto with a three-game advantage, and they play their next six games at home, where they have a major-league-most 40 wins.

"You have to be happy with that, and now we get back home where we play real well and hopefully we just start clicking," Percival said.

Jackson went only five innings for the win Wednesday, but he worked for it, with men on base each inning. Big innings have been his big problem, but he was impressive, escaping in the fourth, when the Jays had a man on third with no outs, and more so in the fifth, when they had second and third with no outs.

"To have men in scoring position with no outs and for any of them not coming in is definitely hard," Jackson said. "It was a combination of making pitches when I needed to, and our good defense."

Maddon lauded Jackson's composure, illustrated by how he stepped off the mound in tight situations and in one case tried a pickoff play he had discussed with second baseman Akinori Iwamura.

"That showed me awareness of the game and what was going on and that he wasn't flustered at that point," Maddon said.

Similarly was how Upton, in a two-plus-week 10-for-53 slump, took it on his own to sacrifice in the eighth, giving Crawford a better chance.

What Crawford, with six extra-base hits (four triples) in his past five games, and Pena, with three homers in six games, are doing is clear: reenergizing a long-stagnant offense.

Just as key is Percival, whose past three saves with multirun leads were a bit too exciting. Wednesday, he fell behind the first and the third batters 3-and-0 but got the outs in order.

"It was great to see him battle," Pena said. "He fell behind the first hitter but he stayed poised, he came back and threw strikes and he got three outs. That's a huge relief for all of us, a huge boost of confidence when a closer comes in and boom, boom, boom the game's over."

With the Rays losing all six on their last trip, Maddon's goal was a winning record on this one. And he took it, of course, as a sign of good things to come: "You're always looking for those little growth moments, and that may be one."

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@sptimes.com.

Rays 3

Blue Jays 2

>>fast facts

Making progress

The Rays on Wednesday matched their win total from the entire 1998 and 2003 seasons. Here's a look at the milestones to erase their past:

Year W-L

2002 55-106

2006 61-101

2001 62-100

1998 63-99

2003 63-99

2007 66-96

2005 67-95

2000 69-92

1999 69-93

2004 70-91

2008 95-67*

* Projection based on current pace

Rays rally by Jays, cap winning road trip 07/30/08 [Last modified: Thursday, July 31, 2008 3:41pm]
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