ST. PETERSBURG — Throughout the first two games of this series, the Rays played a complete game, beating the Blue Jays in convincing fashion.
They certainly got the pitching they needed for a sweep Thursday, with rookie Wade Davis coming through with, arguably, his best performance of the season.
But Tampa Bay couldn't come up with the timely hit in a 3-2 loss to Toronto in front of 13,675 at Tropicana Field. The Rays put the tying run on second with two outs in the ninth, but Hank Blalock struck out. Tampa Bay (39-21) remains two games ahead of the Yankees in the American League East.
"We were in it all the way until the last out," first baseman Carlos Peña said. "We were one swing, a gapper away, from winning that ball game. We're going to lose some games. But it's good to see that when we come up short, at the same time we gave ourselves a very good opportunity to come out victorious at the end."
Davis pitched well enough to win, bouncing back from one of his roughest outings of the season (when he gave up eight runs over 31/3 innings Friday against Texas).
Davis was more aggressive Thursday, pitching inside more effectively and pounding the strike zone with his fastball. He gave up three runs over seven innings. Manager Joe Maddon said Davis looked a lot like he did in his impressive stint in September.
Davis said he figured a lot of things out, admitting the outing was a confidence-builder.
"He came out throwing strikes with his fastball," Maddon said. "He says, 'Here it is. Let's go.' A little bit more old-fashioned country hardball, which is what I like to see out of all our pitchers."
But the Rays offense, which combined for 19 runs and 27 hits in the previous two games, had a tough time against Jays left-hander Brett Cecil, who has won his past five starts. Peña came through with a solo homer in the second, giving him five in his past four games and a club-record 129, one more than Aubrey Huff.
"I'm just extremely grateful to have the opportunity to do something like this," Peña said of breaking the record. "It's a very special day for me. It would have been a lot better if we would have gotten that win."
It's the first time in Peña's career he has homered in four straight games. The Rays' record for consecutive games with a homer is five, set by Jose Canseco (May 16-21, 1999).
The Rays were 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position. And in the sixth, B.J. Upton got caught stealing third with one out (replays indicated he was safe). Maddon said he loved Upton's decision but not the umpire's call.
The Jays added an insurance run in the eighth when, after Davis gave up a leadoff single, Dan Wheeler allowed a double and a sacrifice fly with pinch-runner Dewayne Wise barely beating a Upton's strong throw to the plate.
That run became important as Sean Rodriguez hit a solo homer to lead off the bottom of the ninth, extending his hitting streak to 11 games. And after Carl Crawford, who did not start, pinch-ran and stole second, Peña walked before Kevin Gregg got Blalock swinging.
"It wasn't easy, but it's never too easy to beat that club," Jays manager Cito Gaston said. "They have a good ballclub, and they keep battling all the way."