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Rays

Rays hold on to top Blue Jays

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Published:   |   Updated: March 21, 2013 at 05:41 AM
TORONTO -

The best road team in the major leagues was at it again Wednesday, scoring runs they can't score at home and winning games they can't seem to win in the once-friendly confines of their own park.

But the Tampa Bay Rays' 6-5 victory against the Blue Jays at the Rogers Centre came with a degree of difficulty – they led 6-0 after three innings.

"We're on the road, that's what mattered," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "We've been able to score runs. We can't score them at home so we come out and do the same thing on the road once again, and it was just enough."

The win improved the Rays' major league-best road record to 14-5, which is as many wins as they had on the road at this point last season. In fact, since the start of the 2010 season, the Rays are 61-39 away from the Trop, also tops in the major leagues.

At home the Rays are 11-13. On the road they are warriors, averaging more than six runs per game.

"I have no answer. I really don't," right fielder Matt Joyce said. "I feel like we feel just as comfortable at home. Maybe we get on the road and we think less or we don't try as hard. Maybe it's something like that. I think it's one of those things where at the end of the year it will be a lot closer than what it is right now."

Wednesday was the start of an eight-game, three-city, two-country road trip. It was also the start of a quick two-game trip in Toronto, a quirk in the schedule caused by interleague play, which begins Friday when the Rays take on the Marlins in south Florida.

The Rays arrived in town at 3:30 a.m. Wednesday on their charter flight from St. Petersburg, but looked anything like the sleep-deprived team. They scored three in the second inning and three more in the third for a quick 6-0 lead.

Shortstop Elliot Johnson drove in a career-high three runs with a two-run single in the second inning and a sacrifice fly in the third.

Joyce drove in the first two runs of the third inning with his seventh home run of the season, a drive to right field.

"He just absolutely mangled the ball," Maddon said.

The Rays had some help from the Jays, too.

Starter Jesse Litsch, the former Rays bat boy, walked three, hit two batters, committed two errors and threw a wild pitch. The Jays committed a total of four errors during the second and third innings and could have been charged with two more.

"They did have a tough time on defense, but they righted themselves," Maddon said. "They're playing good baseball and their bullpen is fantastic, so it turned out to be a one-run victory."

Rays starter Jeremy Hellickson, who tossed the first complete game and shutout of his career in his previous outing Friday, stretched his scoreless streak to 17 innings before tiring in the sixth inning.

He allowed the leadoff batter to reach in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings and that runner scored every time.

"I had to get him out at that point. He looked like he was actually a little tired," Maddon said. "I don't know if the 120 (pitches thrown during the shutout) bothered him from last time or not."

Hellickson gave the Rays 5 2/3 innings. He allowed four runs, three earned, walked three and struck out six.

Maddon turned the game over to his bullpen, and Juan Cruz, Cesar Ramos, Joel Peralta and Kyle Farnsworth combined to pick up the final 10 outs. Farnsworth allowed a run in the ninth but managed to convert his ninth save in 10 opportunities.

Ramos got the Rays out of a jam in the seventh inning when he came on to face Aaron Hill with runners on first and second.

The reason there were runners on first and second was because Maddon had Jose Bautista, who leads the American League in batting average and home runs, intentionally walked with two outs.

Bench coach Dave Martinez motioned Joyce to move toward right-center, as per the spray charts on Hill.

Naturally, Hill sent a sinking line drive down the right field line that Joyce caught up to after a long run.

"It probably would have been easier if I dived," Joyce said.

Still, the catch saved one, possibly two runs.

"That was a big one," Maddon said.

And it prove big after the Rays loaded the bases in the top of the ninth but didn't score after B.J. Upton was caught looking at a called third strike and Casey Kotchman flied out to right.

After a loss to the Orioles last week, Maddon said not every game would be an "oil painting." He called Wednesday's win "more like a finger painting," but stopped short of calling it an ugly win.

"There's no such thing as an ugly win, but that was one where we got on top, we fought, we fought, they kept coming back, coming back," he said. "Our bullpen did a great job."

Johnson wasn't too keen on the "ugly win" term, either.

"I wouldn't call it an ugly win. It's finding a way to win," he said. "We put up runs early and couldn't seem to push any more across, and they seemed to creep up on us. We'll take it."

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