ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Down seven runs, Toronto easily could have conceded another disappointing loss. Instead, the struggling Blue Jays chipped away until they found a way to pull off their biggest comeback in nearly six years.
J.P. Arencibia hit a two-out, two-run homer in the ninth inning off Fernando Rodney, giving the last-place team an 8-7 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays on Monday night.
"I think this game kind of evens itself out and if guys keep coming with positive attitudes and keep coming ready to work, it's going to turn. That's the way this game is, and you've got to continue to stay positive and come ready to play every day," Arencibia said after the Blue Jays won for just the fourth time in 14 games.
The last time Toronto rallied from at least seven runs down to win was June 5, 2007, when it overcame an 8-1 margin to beat Tampa Bay 12-11, STATS said.
Tampa Bay last lost a lead of at least seven runs was May 25, 2009, when Cleveland came back from a 10-0 deficit to win 11-10, STATS said.
This time, Evan Longoria hit his third career grand slam as Tampa Bay built a 7-0 lead that Jeremy Hellickson and four Rays relievers failed to protect before a season-low crowd of 9,952 at Tropicana Field.
Colby Rasmus and Mark DeRosa also hit two-run homers for Toronto.
"In a lot of ways we were due, but you don't expect it to happen that way," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said.
"They've got a pretty good pitching staff over there, and when they put seven on the board they're usually going to have a pretty good night," Arencibia added. "Fortunately, we were able to come back and answer."
Toronto trailed 7-6 when Adam Lind drew a leadoff walk in the ninth from Rodney (1-1), who entered the game with one out in the eighth. Pinch-runner Emilio Bonifacio stole second and continued to third on catcher Jose Molina's throwing error with no outs.
Rodney, eyeing a five-out save, retired the next two batters before Arencibia lined a 2-2 pitch into the left-field seats. Arencibia, who pinch-hit in the sixth inning and stayed in the game to catch, hit his ninth home run.
"I really would hope that people understand that he was extended beyond his normal moments right there, and that's pretty much why that happened," Rays manager Joe Maddon said, noting his bullpen was short coming off a nine-game, 11-day road trip that ended Sunday. "I thought we had no other options."
Darren Oliver (1-1) pitched one scoreless inning and Casey Janssen worked a perfect ninth for his eighth save.
Longoria's seventh homer of the season was the biggest blow in a seven-run third inning against Mark Buerhle.
Rasmus hit a two-run homer off Hellickson in the fourth and DeRosa added a two-run, pinch-hit shot off reliever Jake McGee in the sixth.
Down 7-5, Toronto had the potential tying runs in scoring position in the seventh and eighth, but was only able to get one runner home — on Jose Bautista's bases-loaded sacrifice fly in the eighth off Rodney.
Mark Buehrle allowed seven runs and nine hits in six innings. He has now yielded eight home runs over his last three starts.
Luke Scott also homered in Tampa Bay's burst. The third inning was helped by Kelly Johnson's fly ball that landed over the head of Rasmus in centre field for a RBI single, as well as Ryan Roberts' check-swing infield single that loaded the bases for Longoria.
Maddon asked the umpiring crew to review Johnson's single to see if it had bounced off one of the catwalks that support the roof at Tropicana Field and therefore should have been ruled a home run. The crew returned to the field after looking at the video and the play stood.
Despite being staked to the seven-run lead, Hellickson only lasted five innings. The right-hander yielded Rasmus' homer and Melky Cabrera's RBI single in the fourth and was replaced by McGee after throwing 101 pitches.
"It's a difficult loss, no question. But it's about how we react tomorrow," Maddon said. "You lose a game like this and it's tough. Everybody is going to go home very upset. It's how you bounce after the fall."
NOTES: Longoria's grand slam was his first since May 1, 2009 against Boston. ... Tampa Bay SS Yunel Escobar was out of the starting lineup for the second straight game with a bruised left hand. He entered as a defensive replacement in the sixth inning. ... Rays 2B Ben Zobrist is due to return Tuesday after leaving the team for two games following the death of his grandmother. ... Gibbons decided to start C Henry Blanco instead of Arencibia. "I just want to run one game like that," Gibbons said. "It's just something I want to look at." Blanco's previous six starts this season came with knuckleballer R.A. Dickey pitching. Arencibia pinch-hit for Blanco in the sixth.