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Blue Jays hand Rays first AL East road loss

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Published:   |   Updated: March 21, 2013 at 03:10 AM

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TORONTO -

It was a no-brainer, Evan Longoria said. He was going on contact.

Standing on third base in the top of the ninth inning Monday, representing the tying run with one out and Carlos Pena on first, Longoria really had no choice. Go on contact and likely get thrown out at the plate, or remain on third while the Blue Jays turn a game-ending double play.

John Jaso sent a grounder to short. Longoria broke for the plate.

"I knew I was dead, but I made the decision," Longoria said. "I know I'm already dead, maybe I can knock the ball out of (the catcher's) hands."

Longoria didn't, and the Rays' best chance of tying the score ended at the hands of Jays catcher Jose Molina.

It was Toronto 3, Tampa Bay 2 in front of 11,335 at Rogers Centre.

The loss was the Rays' sixth in their past eight games. It was the fourth straight win for the Jays, who moved to within 31/2 games of the first-place Rays, who saw their lead over the second-place Yankees trimmed to 21/2.

It was a game in which the Rays didn't get their first hit until Sean Rodriguez beat out an infield single to shortstop with two outs in the sixth inning.

It was a game in which their starting pitcher, in this case Matt Garza, wasn't his sharpest but kept his team in the game until the offense finally solved Toronto starter Brandon Morrow.

It was a game in which the Rays hit the ball hard, but had little to show for it until they scored twice in the eighth inning.

It was another loss that could have turned with a big hit but didn't because the offense failed to get that one big hit.

"It seems to be a lot of those as of late for us," Longoria said. "We're still looking for that one game, that one hit to get us going again. I thought we did a good job staying with it. Morrow was pretty good for the first six innings. We continued to work good at-bats and made it a manageable game in the ninth; that should be a little bit of a boost for us."

The Blue Jays added to their major-league lead in home runs when Adam Lind took Garza deep in the first inning with a two-run, opposite-field shot into the Jays bullpen. That was home run No. 54.

"They beat us with the home run," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "That's their game."

But Garza, now winless in his past five starts with losses in his past three, settled down and kept the Rays in the game until they finally found some offense.

"We're trying to find ways to grind it out and it doesn't help when the starter spots them two runs in the first," Garza said.

It was 3-0 in the eighth inning when Jaso led off with a single and scored on a triple to right field by B.J. Upton. Upton came home when pinch-hitter Willy Aybar grounded to second.

Joaquin Benoit was able to keep it 3-2 when he stranded Jose Batista at third in the bottom of the eighth.

Longoria tripled with one out in the top of the ninth off Jays closer Kevin Gregg and Pena followed with a four-pitch walk.

That brought Jaso to the plate.

Home plate umpire Joe West called Gregg's first pitch a strike, even thought Jaso and Maddon thought it was in the dirt.

"It kind of put me in a funk there, because if I didn't swing at the next pitch I thought I would go to 0-2, and that's not what I want to do in that situation," Jaso said. "I thought I could get that ball in the air, but I just didn't execute it."

Before the pitch, Longoria turned to third base coach Tom Foley and asked if he should go on contact.

"It's an in between play right there. They were playing halfway in the infield. They were playing if there was a ground ball, like there was, they could turn two, or if I run he can throw home," Longoria said.

Instead, Jaso hit the ball right at Jays shortstop Alex Gonzalez, who saw Longoria break from third and threw home.

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