SPORTS

Blue Jays use the long ball and R.A. Dickey's knuckleball to down Tampa Bay Rays

09/13/2014 03:56 EDT | Updated 11/13/2014 05:59 EST
TORONTO - It took 36 games but Adam Lind finally found the fence.

The Blue Jays first baseman/designated hitter ended the longest home-run drought of his career with a two-run shot in the seventh inning Saturday afternoon to power Toronto to a 6-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays.

It was just the fifth homer of the season for Lind, who has hit more than 20 four times in his career.

"Nice to join the party," Lind said with a wry smile.

The happy-go-luck Jay with the ZZ Top-style beard has been contributing in other ways with his bat even if his long ball has been falling just short of late. He has registered a hit in 15 of his last 18 games with seven doubles and one triple.

Lind is hitting .328 this season but hadn't homered since June 23. His previous longest run without a homer was 29 games in 2012-'13.

"It definitely lessens it a little bit," Lind said of his overall hitting success. "But ultimately home runs are where it's at, not doubles and batting average."

Toronto manager John Gibbons calls Lind a natural hitter.

"Lindy's got one of the nicest pure swings you're going to find in all of baseball," Gibbons said. "And against right-handers, there's not a better hitter out there."

Edwin Encarnacion followed Lind with a blast of his own one pitch later as the Jays snapped a 3-3 tie.

The power surge made a winner of knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, who has won his last four decisions and six of his last eight. Dickey (13-12) gave up three runs on four hits in seven innings, striking out five and walking two.

With the Rays swinging freely in the early going, Dickey varied his speed more than usual. His knuckleball ranged from the lows 60s to the low 80s.

"I changed speeds today early in the count probably more than I have all year," he said. "I threw a lot of knuckleballs under 70 miles per hour early in the count.

"I doubled up a few times, which I hardly ever do, with slow knuckleballs."

It marked the 19th straight game that a Toronto starter had gone six innings or more, matching a 1998 run. The starters' earned-run average over that stretch is 2.52.

The Jays (77-70) have gone 12-7 over that run.

"The rotation has been on some kind of roll. They've been great," said Gibbons. "We score, we win.

"That's the way it is with most teams I guess."

Toronto lost the series opener 1-0 on Friday night, snapping a four-game win streak. The Jays have now won 10 of their last 13 outings, outscoring the opposition 70-30 over that span.

"They've really held up their end of the bargain. All five of them," Gibbons said of his starters. "And one thing that's done too is it's allowed our bullpen to kind of regroup a little bit and keep those guys fresh."

Said Dickey: "I think a lot of people have doubted our rotation throughout the year. So for us as a group it feels good as a group to kind of hang our hat on being able to go deep in games consistently, which we've been able to do."

The 39-year-old Dickey has now pitched 196 2/3 innings, approaching the 200 mark for the fourth straight year.

Casey Janssen pitched the ninth for his 23rd save as Toronto outhit Tampa 7-6.

Lind's drive over the centre-field fence also scored Jose Bautista, who was walked by reliever Brad Boxberger.

Boxberger (5-2) gave way to Steve Geltz and Encarnacion drove his first pitch into the 200 level of left field for a 6-3 lead. Encarnacion's 31st home run marked the eighth time this season the Jays have homered on back-to-back pitches.

Encarnacion, who has hit five homers since coming off the disabled list Aug. 15, came into the game averaging a home run every 14 at-bats this season.

Evan Longoria homered for Tampa Bay, his franchise-leading 183rd, before 31,268 spectators under the Rogers Centre roof.

"The three balls that I hit well were probably the worst three knuckleballs he's ever thrown me," Longoria said of Dickey. "Sometimes that's just the way it works out."

Tampa (71-78) is 4-4 in its last eight games, blowing leads of 4-0, 4-0, 3-0 and 2-0 in the losses.

Tampa's Jeremy Hellickson, making his 11th start since coming off the disabled list July 7 after elbow surgery in January, limited the Jays to three runs on four hits in six innings. He struck out eight and walked four

Hellickson, the AL rookie of the year in 2011, has now faced Toronto in three of his last five starts. He lost 5-2 to Dickey and the Jays in Tampa on Sept. 2 but did not get the decision in the other two starts.

Dickey's first inning lasted just seven pitches but the Jays were down 1-0 after six of them. Ben Zobrist led off with a double and scored on two straight infield ground balls.

Tampa manufactured another run in the third after Kevin Kiermaier singled to right and advanced to second, having baited Bautista to throw to first. A groundout and wild pitch made it 2-0. Dickey escaped further damage when the Rays were unable to cash men on second and third after a two-out walk and Longoria double.

Toronto went ahead 3-2 in the bottom of a messy third for the Rays. Ryan Goins got to first when a wild pitch saved him from a strikeout. He moved to second on an Anthony Gose single and scored on Hellickson's throwing error on a Jose Reyes sacrifice bunt. Gose then scored when Hellickson, a Gold Glove winner in 2012, couldn't handle a Bautista ball hit back to him. Lind's fielder's choice scored Reyes to put the Jays ahead.

"That was an inning we can't let get away from us defensively and we did," said Tampa manager Joe Maddon. "That's what got them back in the ball game."

Toronto failed to take advantage in the fifth after loading the bases with two outs. Longoria tied it 3-3, leading off the sixth with his 21st homer of the season.

The Rays benefited from slick fielding plays from Longoria at third base in both the first and second innings. Reyes matched him in the fourth, jumping high to stab a Yunel Escobar liner. Escobar pulled off a carbon-copy catch on Josh Thole in the bottom of the inning.

Rays outfielder Matt Joyce was thrown out in the ninth for arguing balls and strikes.

Follow @NeilMDavidson on Twitter

MORE:cpSports