Dropped by Rays, Blue Jays hold spot in races

Dropped by Rays, Blue Jays hold spot in races

TORONTO -- The Rays added a dent in the Blue Jays' playoff hopes for a second straight day, using a pair of home runs and a stellar pitching performance to earn an 8-1 rubber-game victory over Toronto on Wednesday afternoon at Rogers Centre.

The Blue Jays are two games behind the first-place Red Sox in the American League East and hold down the second AL Wild Card slot, one game behind the Orioles, who are holding the top Wild Card spot.

After getting no-hit through the first three innings against Marco Estrada, Tampa Bay's offense came to life with three runs in the fourth inning, three in the sixth, and two in the ninth. Corey Dickerson finished 3-for-4 with a two-run homer and a season-high-tying four RBIs, while Kevin Kiermaier added a two-run homer to pace the Rays' attack. Five Tampa Bay hitters finished with multihit games.

Kiermaier on series win

Rays starter Alex Cobb pitched 6 2/3 innings of two-hit ball while striking out four. Cobb allowed just a single run in the first and retired 18 of the final 20 batters he faced. Ryan Garton and Steve Geltz went the rest of the way with 2 1/3 hitless innings.

"Another good win," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "We were talking about it on the bench, funny game. Estrada comes out, punches five guys out real quick. Cobb gives up a quick early run. But we shifted gears big time. He got on an incredible run. Really efficient. Using his pitches. And we seemed to have gotten enough of Estrada to get him out of the game drive his pitch count up and get some runs off him."

"These guys are all trying to do good, they're all trying to come through, they're all trying to get on base and get the big hit and things like that," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "Then things start snowballing. I've got to believe we're at rock bottom. I don't see how much lower it can go. I'm optimistic this will turn in a hurry."

Estrada's outing spiraled downward after having his early no-hit bid broken up in the fourth. The finesse right-hander lasted 5 1/3 innings and allowed four earned runs -- the fifth time he's allowed four runs or more in his past six starts.

Estrada fans the first five Rays

"Our team morale is still high and we're picking everybody up every inning but it's just hard to explain this," Estrada said. "I guess when things are going bad they stay there for a bit. The good thing is we can only go up from here. I know things are going to change. Time is running out but things are going to change. We're too good for this not to."

Dickerson's HR sets mark: Dickerson's two-run homer in the sixth gave the slugger 20 for the season and it also gave the team 200, which set a new single-season club record. The 2009 Rays held the record with 199.

Dickerson's 20th home run

"It's something we can build off of," Dickerson said. "We know we can do. We always know in the back of our mind we're capable of hitting the deep ball, even if it's late in the game or we're behind by a little, we'll come back." More >

I got five on it: Estrada's early returns looked good, as the 33-year-old became the first Blue Jays pitcher to strike out the first five batters of a game. The veteran hasn't pitched at least six innings in six of his past seven starts after tossing six-plus innings in 17 of his first 19 outings.

"I still felt like I threw the ball really well," Estrada said. "Obviously, it didn't look all that great out there, but it's basically just one inning. I've just got to put it past me. I like where I'm at, I like where my pitches are. It's just a little bit of bad luck, I guess."

Early then empty: The Blue Jays manufactured a run to take an early 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first. After Devon Travis extended his hitting streak to a career-high 11 games with a leadoff double, Michael Saunders bunted him to third and Edwin Encarnacion brought him home on a sacrifice fly. Toronto's offense then went cold the rest of the way, and the Blue Jays' two hits matched a season low.

Encarnacion's sac fly

"We're not playing good enough baseball right now," Gibbons said. "Really at either end of it. The bats have gone cold with a few guys in the lineup, and then even the pitching has been kind of hit or miss."

Kiermaier's blast: After mowing down the Rays in order the first time, Estrada allowed a single to Logan Forsythe to start the fourth. Kiermaier followed with his 12th home run, which gave the Rays a 2-1 lead. According to Statcast™, the exit velocity was just 89 mph with a launch angle of 27 degrees, and balls struck with that combination become hits just 10.3 percent of the time (.103 batting average). It was also the first homer of the year that went over the wall with that combination. Anthony Rizzo of the Cubs had an inside-the-park homer with that combination.

"I just think it gives us kind of a reference point. It tells us how good we can be offensively. And that situationally we just need to get a little better. But the power is there and we do have the ability to hit with the other teams in this division." -- Evan Longoria, on the Rays setting a new single-season club record for home runs

Cobb allowed one run on two hits and three walks while striking out four en route to his first win since returning from Tommy John surgery. A total of 722 days had passed since the right-hander picked up his last victory.

Cobb's strong start

"I love winning," Cobb said. "It's why starters go out there. You want to win the ballgame. You want to work deep into the ballgame. When the formula is six-plus innings and holding the guys down with a few runs, the bullpen comes in and shuts the door, that's how rally up a four, five, six-game win streak. Bullpen guys are rested and you can develop a nice season that way."

Toronto dropped its fourth consecutive series for the first time all season.

Rays: The Rays head to Baltimore to begin a four-game series against the Orioles, a team they have not fared well against, losing nine of their past 11 and 11 of 15 for the season. Rookie Blake Snell (5-8, 3.62 ERA), who will make his first career start against the Orioles on Thursday at 7:05 p.m. ET, couldn't make it out of the third against the Yankees on Friday.

Blue Jays: J.A. Happ (18-4, 3.33) gets the ball in Anaheim as the Blue Jays begin a seven-game West Coast road trip against the Angels on Thursday, with the first pitch at 10:05 p.m. ET. Happ allowed two runs over six innings while striking out five in a victory his last time out against the Red Sox.

Watch every out-of-market regular-season game live on MLB.TV.

Alykhan Ravjiani is a reporter for MLB.com based in Toronto.

Bill Chastain has covered the Rays for MLB.com since 2005.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.