The Blue Jays have managed to shine and sputter in 2014. On Sunday, they did both.
Trailing 5-4, Toronto was down to its last strike when pinch-hitter John Mayberry Jr. hit a solo home run to send the game into extra innings. The line drive off Jake McGee just cleared the left-field fence to the delight of 28,633 with the roof open at the Rogers Centre.
Adam Lind's three-run homer in the eighth off Rays reliever Grant Balfour had started the comeback, following singles by Jose Reyes and Jose Bautista.
The Toronto offence had been neatly handled for seven innings by Tampa starter Chris Archer, who struck out nine and allowed just one run — a homer by Edwin Encarnacion — on three hits.
But after doing the hard work in the eighth and ninth, the Jays laid an egg in the 10th.
Reliever Brandon Morrow (1-3) put Toronto in a hole leaving men on first and third with no outs for left-hander Brett Cecil after a Wil Myers walk and Logan Forsythe single. Things got worse when Forsythe stole second and Yunel Escobar walked to load the bases.
Myers scored on Sean Rodriguez's sacrifice fly but Jays third baseman Danny Valencia cut down Forsythe at the home on an ensuing groundout before Cecil struck out Kevin Kiermaier to limit the damage.
The one run was enough for Tampa (72-78) as Brandon Gomes and Jeff Beliveau, with his first career save, combined to blank Toronto in the 10th.
"At this time of year, where we're at, there's really no room for error," said Toronto manager John Gibbons. whose 77-71 team has 14 games remaining. "It makes it that much tougher. And they're always tough too when you battle back.
"It's just one of those games where not much was happening. Then you come back, you strike quick and now the momentum's on your side. Everybody's upbeat and you come back and you end up dropping it like that. Those are always tough. But at this time of year considering where we're at, it's especially tough."
The Jays came into the contest four games back in the wild-card race, with Seattle, Kansas City and Oakland in front of them.
"Obviously we don't like the position we're in, with the teams in front of us," said Toronto starter Mark Buehrle who went six innings. "If there was one team in front of us for that playoff position, then it would be a different story. I mean, I think we all know we're not in a good position. We need help from other teams but at the same time we've got to worry about ourselves and try to win the games we're playing.
"Again I'd like to sit here and say we're in a better position but we're not and we kind of put ourselves in that and we've got to deal with it."
Mayberry's seventh home run of the season — the previous six were with Philadelphia — represented his fourth pinch hit homer of the campaign and the seventh of his career. It also extended Toronto's franchise record for pinch-hit homers in a season to nine.
The Rays came into the game having lost four of their last eight games, throwing away leads of 4-0, 4-0, 3-0 and 2-0 along the way. But they hung on for the win this time after mounting their own comeback.
Toronto had won five of its last six and 10 of 13 since Aug. 30, during which time it has outscored the opposition 70-30.
The Jays, who are now 8-4 in September, shot themselves in the foot with a 9-17 August.
McGee (5-2) got the win despite surrendering the Lind homer — only the second he has given up this season. Both have come in his last three appearances after going the previous 76 innings without giving up the long ball.
Tampa outhit Toronto 14-7 and homered for the seventh straight game to match a season high.
Ben Zobrist, with his 10th of the season, and Escobar, with a blast off the Level of Excellence just below the .500 level of the Rogers Centre, went long for Tampa.
Escobar, a former Jay, was booed as he rounded the bases after his solo moonshot off Todd Redmond in the eighth. The shortstop rubbed salt in the wound with his trademark celebration as he crossed home plate after his seventh homer of the season.
"It's part of the show." he said through an interpreter. "I was glad I hit the home run. I have a lot of fun now, coming here to play. I enjoy doing what I do and hopefully they (the fans) do."
Archer set down 10 in a row after loading the bases in the third. The streak ended when Encarnacion led off the bottom of the seventh with a home run to left-field.
Encarnacion's 32nd homer — his second in as many days — tied Bautista for the club lead. It marked the fifth time this season Encarnacion has homered in back-to-back games.
Lind, meanwhile, recorded his second home run in as many days after a career-high 36-game homer drought.
Archer came into the game with an 8.82 earned-run average in his last three outings. But apart from the slight wobble in the third, the right-hander mowed his way through the Jays and faced the minimum three batters in the first, second, fourth, fifth and sixth.
The six-foot-three right-hander feasted on the bottom four of the Toronto lineup, recording nine strikeouts and a flyout while yielding only a Valencia broken bat single against Colby Rasmus, Valencia, Ryan Goins, Anthony Gose and pinch hitter Dan Johnson.
Tampa is 26-8 since the start of 2013 when Archer throws six innings or more and 4-15 when he doesn't.
On the minus side, Archer has now surrendered homers in four straight starts — a career-high.
The Jays had won Buehrle's five previous starts against Tampa this year, with the left-hander yielding a total of eight earned runs. It looked like more of the same as Buehrle retired the first six batters he faced before giving up four runs on seven hits in the third and fourth inning.
Buehrle gave up four runs on nine hits with one strikeout. Zobrist's homer was the first Buehrle had given up to a Tampa hitter in 58 2/3 innings.
The game was the 20th straight that Jays starters had gone six or more innings, erasing a club record set in 1998. But it did not come with a win this time as the offence slumbered, dropping Toronto's record to 12-8 over that stretch.
The last team to post such a 20-game streak was the 2013 Detroit Tigers.
Bautista had an eventful day in right field.
He turned heads in the first inning with a sliding catch on a short Brandon Guyer fly ball. But in the fourth, he lost a Myers fly ball in the sun, turning an out into a double and setting the stage for a two-run outburst.
"The sun was our buddy today," said Rays manager Joe Maddon.
Bautista looked to have made another great play in the eighth, racing to a Forsythe foul ball in the front row of the stands. But a fan beat him to it with a fine catch of his own, drawing boos when the play was shown on the big screen.
There was a happy ending for the Jays as Forsythe, on review, was called out due to fan interference
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