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TB@TOR: Joyce makes a great running catch

TORONTO -- In a game in which the opposition put up as many errors as it did runs -- a whopping five from the Blue Jays -- it ended up being a Rays defensive play that preserved the victory.

With two men on and Aaron Hill at the plate, Rays right fielder Matt Joyce shaded in toward right-center field, expecting Hill to send the ball in that direction. As if on cue, Hill sliced the second pitch he saw down the right-field line, forcing Joyce to make a terrific running catch far to his left, preventing the Jays from scoring two runs and tying the game at six.

It was the play that ensured a 6-5 Rays win over the Blue Jays in an error-filled contest at Rogers Centre on Wednesday night. Both Toronto runners would have scored easily, had Hill's fly ball dropped, and the Rays' early six-run lead would have been erased by a Blue Jays offense that chipped away at the Rays all night.

"Matty's really come a long way the last couple years, defensively, and made a great play," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "We just moved him to right-center, so he was even farther away from that ball."

Joyce contributed at the plate as well, going 1-for-3 with two walks and a two-run homer in the third inning. It was Joyce's seventh home run of the season and his fifth in his past nine games. The 26-year-old is hitting .414 (13-for-29) over that span with nine RBIs.

"[It was] just a fastball; [I] got it up and drove it," Joyce said of the towering shot to deep right-center field off Toronto starter Jesse Litsch, who took the loss. "He threw me a lot of fastballs [and] cutters, [as well as] changeups in the first at-bat. I saw all his pitches and figured I'd be aggressive in the second at-bat, and it paid off."

Elliot Johnson provided much of the rest of the offense for the Rays (25-18), going 2-for-3 with three RBIs, including a two-run single in a second inning that was one of the stranger frames the Rays have seen this season.

With runners on second and third and one out, Johnson lofted a floater to right field to score both runners, as the Blue Jays committed a pair of throwing errors. Johnson, who would end up on third by the end of the mayhem, later scored on an error himself when Blue Jays first baseman Edwin Encarnacion mishandled Sam Fuld's sacrifice bunt attempt.

"I was just taking the extra base because the ball kicked away," Johnson said. "And then the ball kicks away again, so I took the extra base again. It was a little bit different. You don't really expect stuff like that to happen."

Johnson was starting his third game at short in the Rays' past four, taking over for Reid Brignac, who has been struggling at the plate. The 27-year-old Johnson has gone 5-for-10 with two home runs and five RBIs in those three games and is hoping to turn this opportunity into a full-time gig.

"I've been given opportunities, and now it's just time to make the most of it," Johnson said. "If I get to play every day, then great. But to be an everyday player, you have to be able to play consistently well, so hopefully I can do that."

Jeremy Hellickson picked up the win, his fifth on the year, tying him with David Price for the team lead. He lasted 5 2/3 innings, allowing five hits and four runs, three earned, the first runs he has allowed since April 28 against the Twins.

But as has been the case with Hellickson throughout his first full season in the Majors, his second and third trips through the batting order proved much more difficult than the first.

Hellickson faced just one over the minimum through his first three innings, giving up a lone single while striking out five and inducing three ground-ball outs. But the youngster allowed a run on a fielder's choice in the fourth and an unearned run scored on a double play.

Hellickson gave up a leadoff double to Corey Patterson and, after a loud line-drive out from Jose Bautista, allowed another double to Hill off the left-field wall, scoring Patterson. Two batters later, with runners on first and second, Hellickson was on the wrong end of Eric Thames' first Major League hit, a single to center that plated a run and ended Hellickson's outing.

The 24-year-old has now given up just three runs total in the first three innings of his eight starts this year, but has allowed 12 in the fourth, fifth and sixth, combined.

"When [Hellickson] loses his command, which is very unusual to see, that's when it happens," Maddon said. "The base hit by Thames -- we had to get him out at that point. He looked like he was actually a bit tired."

The Rays bullpen would take over from there with Juan Cruz, Cesar Ramos and Joel Peralta combining to pitching 2 1/3 innings of scoreless relief before handing it over to Kyle Farnsworth.

Toronto would claw its way back to within one with a run in the bottom of the ninth, but Farnsworth (21-21) struck out Corey Patterson looking to notch his ninth save of the season.

"Our bullpen did a great job, a fabulous job," Maddon said. "It was just enough."

And, of course, there was Joyce in the seventh, who may have had the play of the night, running down Hill's looper to keep his team in the game.

"We had a couple of men on, and Joyce makes a heck of a play down the right-field corner that might have changed the whole circumstance here tonight," Blue Jays manager John Farrell said of the play.

The Rays now also move to a Major League-best 14-5 on the road, which stands in stark contrast to the team's 11-13 record at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg. The team, which is just beginning an eight-game road trip, has won 11 of its past 13 games away from home.

The players are just as baffled as the fans by the seemingly reverse record.

"It's one of those things that you just can't explain," Joyce said. "I have no answer. I really don't." Comments