TORONTO — The Rays have been searching for something, anything, to snap them out of their extended skid, and they might have found it in a remarkable 7-6 comeback win over the Blue Jays on Tuesday.
And to think all it took was a controversial non-call by home plate umpire Angel Hernandez on a timeout request, an emotional outburst by manager Joe Maddon leading to an ejection and a four-run ninth-inning comeback keyed by Sean Rodriguez, who was only in the game because the Rays had given up their DH three innings earlier and got their only hit of the inning after four walks. Plus, they had to survive some bottom-of-the-ninth drama.
"Sometimes," said Carlos Peña, the "victim" of the non-call, "weird stuff does spark the good."
"The opportune moment can be disguised," Maddon said. "It can be wearing different clothing. Right there it was wearing the clothing of not permitting a timeout. So in some perverse way sometimes, things work out in your favor."
To start at the end, the victory was much needed as the Rays had lost six of eight and were in danger of seeing their once-robust six-game AL East lead sliced to 1½.
"It was a big win," Maddon said. "I normally don't speak of big wins, but I thought that one is."
The circumstances were remarkable. With the Rays down 5-0 through six innings and 5-3 one out into the ninth, there was no reason to think it wouldn't be another lackluster loss.
Their wild comeback started quietly as Carl Crawford drew a walk off Jays closer Kevin Gregg, and, after a stolen base and an errant pickoff throw, Evan Longoria did, too.
With Peña next, that's when things got hot, then so did Maddon.
Peña waved his left hand repeatedly in a request for timeout before the 2-and-2 pitch by Gregg. "You don't think twice about it when you go like this (waving his hand) and you're doing it with enough time that they're giving it to you," Peña said.
But Hernandez refused to acknowledge his request — which is Hernandez's discretion — and Peña could make only a desperate wave of his bat as the pitch was called strike three. "I couldn't do anything," Peña said.
Maddon was irate — perhaps as angry as he has ever been on the field — and tore into Hernandez, and was quickly getting ejected (for the second straight Tuesday). After a few more words for Hernandez, he went down the third-base line to scream at crew chief Joe West, the controversial veteran umpire who has made it a personal crusade to speed up games.
Maddon, putting it politely in his office later, said he was "kind of annoyed" that the timeout wasn't permitted and blamed the efforts to quicken games. "I'm all for supporting league policy, but when it comes to speed-up rules in those kind of situations, I think they can basically be thrown in the trash can," he said. "It's inappropriate. There's no such thing as a speed-up rule at that moment in the game, that was my argument."
And Peña said: "(Hernandez)'s a good umpire; I just thought he made a bad decision there. He could have made a better decision, especially in that situation."
But West told the Times the Rays were wrong in their assumptions and Hernandez made the correct call based on Rule 6.02 protecting a pitcher having already started his delivery. And, West noted, that Peña had similarly tried to call timeout earlier in the at-bat and Gregg stopped.
"He umpired by the letter of the law, which you're supposed to do," West said. "It's not just pace of game. … Because it's part of pace of game, I'm sure it's magnified in their eyes."
As for the Rays' complaints, West said, "(Peña) is right halfway; Angel is a very good umpire. And Joe is just angry because it happened to him. I get that. We understand that. All the calls can't go their way. That's why they have us."
Peña acknowledged that Hernandez said something to him about "calling it too late," but Peña said, as Maddon did, that the game should not be affected. "In those type of situations, make sure you let me swing the bat," Peña said.
Once all that excitement was over, things got even more interesting.
Now with two outs, the Rays — who had given up the DH during some sixth-inning maneuvering — were down to their last position player, rookie John Jaso. After taking a strike, he worked a walk to load the bases. Then Ben Zobrist did, too, to force in a run and make it 5-4.
Rodriguez, who came into the game on an unusual-for-an-AL-game double-switch as Maddon managed tactically with a short bench due to Jason Bartlett's injury ("That's Joe Maddon," Rodriguez said. "You've got to be ready for anything."), laced a ball to right-center on a 1-and-1 pitch and cleared the bases.
Gregg had thrown 18 of his previous 27 pitches for balls, but Rodriguez, coming in with a .224 average, figured he would get something to hit.
"He had been all over the place a little bit, but he hadn't been missing (by) much, and I figured with me coming up there, he was going to be a little bit more relaxed, saying, 'All right, the guy's not hitting very well,' so I figured I'd get more pitches to hit," Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez has been working extensively with hitting coach Derek Shelton on hitting the ball to rightfield, and before he went to the plate, Longoria, who was on third, called him over for a constructive reminder.
"He tells me to just relax, that if he throws you that heater, you're going to pull it naturally, and if he throws you that cutter middle away, which he's probably going to do, hit it right over the second baseman's head," Rodriguez said. "And that's what ended up happening,"
That wasn't the end of it, as Gregg walked Dioner Navarro then got ejected. And there was more drama in the bottom of the ninth, as shortstop Reid Brignac made a throwing error to allow Fred Lewis to reach first to open the home ninth, then with two outs, Vernon Wells laced a ball a foot from the top of the leftfield wall, just missing what would have been a tying homer off closer Rafael Soriano. Instead the Jays closed to 7-6, and Soriano retired Jose Bautista to convert his AL-leading 15th save in 15 chances.
"Just a great overall effort by the ballclub," Peña said. "That's a perfect example of tenacity, which I think this team has a lot of."
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]