TORONTO -- After losing the finale of a long and eventful road trip, the Tampa Bay Rays are finally heading home.
There won't be much time to rest. A nine-game homestand opens Monday with three against the AL East-leading New York Yankees. After four games against Kansas City, the Rays play two against the Boston Red Sox, who lead the AL wild-card race."This is a crucial homestand," Rays slugger Pat Burrell said. "I think it will dictate a lot, especially with the [July 31 trade] deadline coming up. If we have a real good homestand, I mean real good, we're going to be in a good place."Scott Rolen hit a three-run home run and the Toronto Blue Jays beat Tampa Bay 5-1 on Sunday, handing Rays rookie Jeff Niemann his first loss in his last six decisions.The Rays finished 6-4 on a road trip that began after the All-Star break and included both a perfect-game defeat to Chicago's Mark Buehrle and the biggest comeback in team history, overturning an eight-run deficit in Saturday's 10-9, 12-inning win."A lot of stuff happened in 10 days," manager Joe Maddon said. "We've got to keep pushing it, there's no two ways about it."Blue Jays rookie left-hander Brett Cecil got the win Sunday, allowing one run and four hits in seven innings. Cecil (4-1) walked three and struck out seven. Brandon League pitched the eighth and Jason Frasor finished in the ninth as the Blue Jays won for just the second time in nine games against the Rays."[Cecil] is pitching well," Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston said. "He set the tone. I'm proud of the way they came back and played because [Saturday] was a tough day for all of us."Outfielder B.J. Upton said Cecil denied the Rays one of their biggest weapons."He kept us off the basepaths and when you do that to us, it's tough," Upton said. "We're a team that revolves around speed and letting the middle of our order knock us in."One day after matching its biggest blown lead ever, Toronto snapped a three-game losing streak. The Blue Jays have lost seven of their past eight series and are 8-17 in that stretch.Niemann (9-5) allowed five runs and nine hits in 6 2/3 innings to lose for the first time since May 28 at Cleveland. He walked one and struck out six."I thought Jeff threw the ball great," Maddon said. "He's starting to really look like a major league pitcher."Niemann kept Toronto hitless through three innings before Aaron Hill and Adam Lind opened the fourth with back-to-back singles. Rolen followed with a homer to center, his eighth."It was a slider that just didn't slide," Niemann said. "It stayed out there and he capitalized."Rolen refused to speak to the media following the game.Carl Crawford cut the deficit to 3-1 with his 10th homer of the season in the sixth inning. It snapped Cecil's 18-inning scoreless streak.Evan Longoria followed with a double and Ben Zobrist drew a four-pitch walk but Cecil struck out Burrell looking to end the inning.Toronto answered in the bottom half when Lind doubled, went to third on Rolen's single and scored when Vernon Wells grounded into a double play. The Blue Jays chased Niemann in the seventh. Lyle Overbay led off with a double, took third one out later on Joe Inglett's single and scored on a base hit by Marco Scutaro.Rays slugger Carlos Pena batted sixth for the second straight day and went 0 for 3 with a walk.
Blue Jays scout Steve Springer attended the Class-A Clearwater Phillies game Sunday. Philadelphia is rumored to be the leading candidate to acquire Toronto RHP Roy Halladay. ... Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston is considering using a six-man starting rotation over the final two months of the season, an effort to limit the innings of rookies Cecil, Scott Richmond and Marc Rzepczynski. ... Rays LHP Brian Shouse (elbow) is expected to come off the 15-day DL before Monday's game against the Yankees. ... Toronto's seventh annual Dog Day promotion attracted 324 dogs and their owners.