Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Tampa Bay Rays complete three-game sweep with 3-0 win over Toronto Blue Jays

ST. PETERSBURG — A lot has factored in to the Rays' increasingly intriguing bid to get back in the playoffs. There has been a noticeable improvement in the offense. More dazzling defensive plays. A string of quality pitching performances.

After Sunday's 3-0 win over Toronto that ran their winning streak to five, add J.P. Howell's Portuguese water dog Rosie to the list.

Howell credited his rec time with Rosie for being able to make the remarkable running, and throwing in midair, play his teammates said saved the day, and maybe the season, keeping the Blue Jays from scoring what would have been the tying run in the seventh.

"That's the play of the year," manager Joe Maddon said. "It's an impossible play to make and he did. You win the pennant because of that play right there."

Sunday, they were happy just to win the game, improving to 83-70 and remaining 3½ games behind the A's, albeit with only nine games remaining. The Rays, who also have the Angels in front of them, trail the wild card-leading Orioles by 4½ and the East-leading Yankees by 5½.

But, for today anyway, their sights seem set on the A's, who beat the Yankees on Sunday but play seven of their remaining 10 games against the AL-best Rangers, with a four-game series starting tonight in Arlington.

"There's definitely some life. You can hear our heartbeat rolling," Howell said. "Put a little pressure on them and hopefully they fold. That's what we're trying to do — we're just trying to make them boys fold.

"They've got a tough schedule ahead of them. So do we, but they've got the Rangers, and hopefully the Rangers do work for us. I love the Rangers. The Rangers are my favorite."

The Rays were in position to win Sunday's game thanks to a first-inning homer by B.J. Upton, his career-high-extending 26th overall, eighth in his past 14 games and 16th in 41 games since Aug. 11, most in the majors in that span; and a solid five-plus-inning effort from Jeremy Hellickson, who won for the first time in a month.

They ensured it with three key plays.

Jake McGee came on when Hellickson was pulled with the bases loaded in the sixth and left Kelly Johnson looking helplessly at a 97 mph fastball for strike three. "Kind of the big point in that game," Maddon said.

Evan Longoria turned the 1-0 lead into 3-0 in the eighth, doubling off the right-centerfield wall after Desmond Jennings reached on a one-out broken bat single and stole second, and Jays manager John Farrell helped the cause by walking Ben Zobrist, figuring Longoria with his bad leg was a prime double play candidate. "It was a surprise for me to see them put him on and let me hit with two people on," Longoria said. "I was excited."

And in between, there was Howell making a mad dash and flying through the air.

"Saved the game," Longoria said.

The Jays had a man on third with two outs when Colby Rasmus hit a soft broken-bat looper over the right side of the mound. Howell chased it down before the edge of the basepath, scooped it, then left his feet as he turned and threw a sidearm strike to first before landing on the dirt.

"When it was hit, I'm like, 'No, really, that's going to be one?' " Upton said. "But he looked pretty quick. He didn't look like a pitcher."

Howell was getting plenty of "love" from his teammates but said that it's a play infielders make all the time, and he probably made it look tougher than it was.

To him, it was just an extension of all the time when he's playing and throwing at odd angles with Rosie, the 2½-year-old pooch he and his wife, Heather, ordered as a get-well present on May 20, 2010, the day of his shoulder surgery.

"We scrap every day," Howell said. "I'm always leaning to the side … always on the move. She got me right, definitely."

Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]

 
Comments
What if the Rays actually have a good plan?

What if the Rays actually have a good plan?

PORT CHARLOTTE — Going against popular opinion, here's an odd thought to ponder:What if the Rays actually know what they're doing?The deal agreed to Wednesday afternoon with veteran outfielder Carlos Gomez — one year for a, hefty for them...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Denard Span on new Ray Anthony Banda: ‘Guy is pretty legit’

Denard Span on new Ray Anthony Banda: ‘Guy is pretty legit’

PORT CHARLOTTE — 2B Nick Solak reported to camp Wednesday, while LHP Anthony Banda, the other player acquired in the Steven Souza Jr. trade, is on his way.Banda, whose fastball hits the mid-90s, pitched in eight games last season with the Diamo...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Dick Vitale to Rays owner Stu Sternberg: Sell the team

Dick Vitale to Rays owner Stu Sternberg: Sell the team

PORT CHARLOTTE – Dick Vitale, the Rays most visible and, as of late, vocal fan, took to Twitter and the 620-AM airwaves Wednesday morning and later in the day in a phone call to the Times to blast his local baseball team.ESPN's lead college bas...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Rays move fast to fill void, sign Carlos Gomez

Rays move fast to fill void, sign Carlos Gomez

PORT CHARLOTTE — The Rays moved quickly to fill the void created by Tuesday's trade of RF Steven Souza Jr., agreeing to a one-year deal Wednesday afternoon with veteran OF Carlos Gomez.The deal, pending a physical, will pay Gomez $4-million...
Updated: 7 hours ago
The brawls new Rays rightfielder Carlos Gomez inspired

The brawls new Rays rightfielder Carlos Gomez inspired

The Rays new rightfielder Carlos Gomez is, as the Times' Rays beat writer Marc Topkin describes him, a "somewhat emotional" player.That reputation in part comes from his role in inspiring a handful of benches-clearing brawls. Here's a look at few of ...
Updated: 8 hours ago
With Souza the latest to be gone, what do Rays have left? Well …

With Souza the latest to be gone, what do Rays have left? Well …

The first question to ask, understandably, is who do the Rays have left?And, after they Tuesday added 2017 team MVP Steven Souza Jr. to the list of departees that had just included Corey Dickerson and Jake Odorizzi, the next to ask is what do they ha...
Published: 02/21/18
Another question for Rays after trading Souza: What to do with these …

Another question for Rays after trading Souza: What to do with these …

Having traded 2017 team MVP Steven Souza Jr. to Arizona, Rays baseball officials are now looking for a way to replace him on the field.And now Rays marketing officials also have to decide what to do with the spot he held in their lineup, having sched...
Published: 02/21/18
Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: The Rays fire sale is on

Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: The Rays fire sale is on

The fire sale is on for the Rays, as they trade Steven Souza, Jr., to Arizona to trim more payroll for this season.In his lastest podcast, Rick Stroud says he feels bad for Rays fans, as many of their favorite players have left the team, including Ev...
Published: 02/21/18
Steven Souza trade: Instant reaction to the Rays latest deal

Steven Souza trade: Instant reaction to the Rays latest deal

The Rays traded right fielder Steven Souza, Jr., their 2017 team MVP, to the Arizona Diamondbacks on Tuesday night in a three-team deal for Arizona's No. 2 prospect, lefty Anthony Banda, Yankees infield prospect Nick Solak and two players to be named...
Published: 02/20/18
Updated: 02/21/18
Rays trade team MVP Steven Souza Jr. in three-team deal that nets prospects

Rays trade team MVP Steven Souza Jr. in three-team deal that nets prospects

PORT CHARLOTTE — Evan Longoria traded in December. Jake Odorizzi and Corey Dickerson dumped over the weekend. Then, in a stunning move Tuesday night, 2017 team MVP Steven Souza Jr. shipped to Arizona as part of a three-team deal that netted onl...
Published: 02/20/18
Updated: 02/21/18