Blue Jays-Rays Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated September 21, 2012
The Tampa Bay Rays hope a comeback win can spark a last-ditch postseason push. Given their history with the last-place Toronto Blue Jays, they seem to be in good position to pick up a few more victories. James Shields looks to continue his dominance over the Blue Jays when he takes the ball for the Rays in Friday night's series opener. Tampa Bay (80-70) appeared headed toward its eighth loss in 10 games Thursday as it trailed Boston 4-1 heading into the ninth inning. But the Rays tied it on Desmond Jennings' two-run single and one batter later, B.J. Upton ended the game with a three-run homer, lifting Tampa Bay to a 7-4 victory. "That last inning we dug deep,'' Upton said. The Rays remained 5 1/2 games behind the second AL wild-card slot, but are running out of time with only 12 contests remaining. "That was definitely the Rays' magic of old,'' said Matt Joyce, who led off the big inning with a single. "Hopefully we can muster up a lot more of it in the last couple of games here. Anything is possible.'' Tampa Bay desperately needs to string several wins together, and a home series with Toronto should help. The Rays are 11-4 against the Blue Jays, and have won the last five meetings at Tropicana Field. Evan Longoria is batting .316 with a homer and nine RBIs in 10 games against Toronto, while Ben Zobrist has a .403 on-base percentage with two homers and eight RBIs in 14 games. Zobrist has also been a major thorn in the side of scheduled starter Carlos Villanueva (7-5, 3.42 ERA), going 4 for 8 with three homers and four walks. Shields (14-9, 3.77) has also given the Blue Jays fits, going 4-0 with a 1.11 ERA and 41 strikeouts in 40 2-3 innings in five starts against them since the start of last season. In that span, Yunel Escobar is batting .167 in 18 at-bats off Shields, while Edwin Encarnacion is 1 for 12 and Adam Lind and Kelly Johnson are each 1 for 11. Escobar is eligible to return Friday from a three-game suspension he received for wearing eye-black displaying an anti-gay slur written in Spanish during a game last weekend against Boston. He apologized and said he meant it to be a joke. The Blue Jays (66-82) lost each game Escobar was suspended, and with Thursday's 10-7 defeat to the New York Yankees, Toronto is ensured of a second straight losing season. Encarnacion returned Thursday after being sidelined for three games with a sore right big toe and singled twice. He has five homers and 12 RBIs against the Rays this year. Villanueva is 1-1 with a 2.25 ERA and 14 strikeouts over 12 innings in two starts against Tampa Bay this season. The right-hander has yielded three runs or fewer in 13 of 16 starts since entering the rotation at the end of June, but has been backed by three runs or less 13 times leaving him with a 5-5 record. He pitched well enough to win Saturday against Boston, allowing two runs and four hits in seven innings, but the Blue Jays lost 3-2. Shields gave up four runs and six hits in 6 1-3 innings in Saturday's 5-3 loss to the Yankees. It was the first time he permitted more than three runs since July 26, having gone 6-1 with a 1.90 ERA in his previous eight starts. The righty faced Toronto once over that stretch, allowing only a single to Adeiny Hechavarria and homer to Colby Rasmus in eight innings of a 4-1 victory on Aug. 7.
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