TORONTO — By the time Monday's game was finally sorted out and the 12-7 win properly celebrated and serenaded by Ring of Fire, the Rays were left to ponder an interesting question:
Was it more impressive the way their hitters — minus Carl Crawford, who left early with low back tightness — rallied again against Blue Jays ace-against-everybody-else Roy Halladay after their early 3-0 lead turned into a 6-3 deficit, or how starter Jeff Niemann recovered after giving it back in a messy five-run second to work into the seventh for his major-league rookie-high 12th win?
Both were significant accomplishments, as was the overall result: a rare big win on the road. The victory improved the Rays to 68-56, matching their season-high mark of 12 games over .500, and kept them three games behind the wild-card-leading Red Sox and 1½ behind idle Texas.
"Just a really gritty good effort when you needed to do it," manager Joe Maddon said. "It was awesome."
The seven earned runs the Rays got off Halladay were the most he has allowed in a game (and the first time in a 79-game stretch he had given up more than five) since June 5, 2007 — against the Rays, in a game the Jays came back to win — and the 12 hits matched the most he has ever given up.
Then again, the Rays may be the only team that actually looks forward to facing Halladay — or at least doesn't fear him — given the major-league-most six losses they've pinned on him since the start of last season, while he is 30-12 vs. all others.
Carlos Peña hit his American League-leading 35th homer (and ninth in his past 16 games), Ben Zobrist hit his 23rd and scored four runs, and Jason Bartlett had three hits — including what Maddon termed the game's biggest, a one-out single in the fourth that, with help from the Jays, sparked the three-run rally that pulled the Rays back even at 6-6.
And they did all this without Crawford, whose injury isn't considered serious but is expected to keep him out at least tonight.
But Maddon said the story of the night was Niemann, not only for what the AL rookie of the year candidate did but the circumstances under which he did it, maintaining composure and focus and not giving up and making it worse, which even the tall right-hander admitted might have happened even earlier this season.
"That may have been his best start of the year just based on that alone," Maddon said. "You can talk about when you got everything going in your favor for nine innings and everything rolling and there's no consternation and everything's happening. That's one thing.
"But when you have to do what he did tonight vs. that guy, to me that really tells you something about our pitcher, and I was really proud of him."
So were catcher Gregg Zaun and Peña, who told Niemann afterward: "We won this game because of you."
But Niemann — who got a nice-looking W for a rather ugly line: 61/3 IP, 8 H, 6 R, 5 ER, 3 BB, 3 SO, 1 grand slam — said he was just trying to "stay numb and make the next pitch" and insisted his teammates did the hard part.
"We were definitely in a hole and we were down early and we fought back," he said. "I can't say enough for the rest of the guys who picked us up and got those runs in."
Either way you look at it, on this wild night, the Rays came out ahead.
Marc Topkin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.