TORONTO — The Rays chattered a lot before Friday's game about how confident they were they could carry over the hot streak they rode into the All-Star break, and how encouraged they felt about the position they were in, confident they would fare well on a 10-game trek to Toronto, Boston and New York.
Down three runs early to the last-place Jays despite having ace David Price on the mound, it looked to be just talk. But by the end of the steamy night, they backed up their words with an 8-5 victory.
"We were playing the best ball we had to this point in the year leading up to the All-Star break," Price said. "To have that four-day break, you don't want to mess up the momentum that the team has and just the winning feeling we have in the clubhouse and in the dugout and every day we come to the field. So that was a big win for us (Friday)."
The Rays improved to 56-41, winning for the 11th time in their past 12 games and the 18th time in their past 22 to remain 2½ games behind the AL East-leading Red Sox.
"The point is we put it down for a couple days and picked it right back up," manager Joe Maddon said. "That's really a testament to the boys, the way they came out and played (Friday). To get down, they didn't blink, they came back and beat a very good team."
It certainly was a team effort, even more so since they were without two key members: first baseman James Loney on paternity leave and shortstop Yunel Escobar still sidelined by hamstring tightness.
Price wasn't as sharp as in his first three outings since coming off the disabled list — two complete games, allowing three runs and no walks — but he did his part.
Facing a more-aggressive-than-usual Jays lineup, Price gave up a career-high-tying three homers, all in the first three innings. But then, determined to keep the Rays within reach at 4-1, he settled into a groove despite being so soaked with sweat he didn't have a dry spot anywhere to wipe his hand, and he retired 12 of his final 13 batters.
Lost in the process was the team-record streak of 15 consecutive quality starts and a record streak of walkless innings by Price (27) as he put Mark DeRosa on in the third inning.
"He kept getting better," Maddon said. "He wasn't bad in the beginning; he just threw it in a couple bad spots, and those guys hit homers."
Price's teammates rewarded him, rallying to tie it in the sixth and taking the lead in the eighth. Their first four runs came on solo homers, making it seven in two starts against Toronto's Esmil Rogers. Ben Zobrist, Wil Myers — "Pretty much shanked a 2-iron," Maddon said of the line drive blast — Evan Longoria and Kelly Johnson went deep to bring the Rays back.
They went ahead in an interesting eighth. Johnson started it with a single off left-hander Brett Cecil. Maddon uncharacteristically called for a bunt, and Sean Rodriguez, pinch-hitting against right-hander Steve Delabar, somewhat brazenly got it down on an 0-and-2 count. After Jose Molina lined out, Ryan Roberts, as he did in Houston on July 1 when last called up unexpectedly, got the big hit, scoring Johnson with a single to left, and the Rays tacked runs on from there.
"That," Price said, "was a Rays win."
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]m.