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TB@TOR: Longoria powers a two-run shot to center

TORONTO -- The Tampa Bay Rays are ready to come home.

They have survived a 10-game trip to Detroit, Boston and Toronto and they came out of it not too bad according to manager Joe Maddon, considering the degree of difficulty of their early-season schedule.

"It's been a difficult schedule," Maddon said after the Rays defeated the Toronto Blue Jays 9-4 on Thursday, led by Evan Longoria, who hit a two-run homer and had four runs batted in. "I'm really proud of the way our guys have fought through it."

The Rays had a 4-6 record on the trip but considering that they started the season with a three-game winning streak at home against the New York Yankees, Maddon said he was fine with it.

After their victory over the Blue Jays in the rubber match of a three-game series at Rogers Centre with the roof open, the Rays are 7-6 for the season.

"That was very challenging," first baseman Carlos Pena said. "We had a couple of Opening Days, a bunch of day games. It was a challenge to get your rest, get your preparation routine in line. We held our own and we get back home with positive momentum on our side and something to build from."

"We've got some good momentum going home," Longoria said. "To go home with our head above water, so to speak, after a really tough road trip, with a two-game winning streak and some really good momentum, is a big positive."

Jeremy Hellickson allowed three runs, two earned, in 5 2/3 innings to pick up the win. Henderson Alvarez allowed six runs in 6 1/3 innings as he gave up six hits, including fifth-inning home runs by Longoria and Desmond Jennings.

Alvarez is 0-2 in two career starts against the Rays. The first one was last Aug. 26.

"I'm a big fan," Maddon said. "He's a good young pitcher. He's 22 years of age, he's got a bowling ball sinker pitch. He's going to get a ton of ground balls. As he really understands and learns what he wants to do as a major league pitcher, he's going to be really good. We got to him today a little bit but I do like him a lot."

Ben Zobrist, who hit a two-run homer in the first inning of Wednesday's 12-2 victory after being moved up to the second spot in the order, again batted second and again was involved in the scoring.

He singled, took second on a walk to Pena, and scored on Longoria's single.

The Blue Jays tied it in the home half of the first. Yunel Escobar hit a leadoff single, took second on a wild pitch and scored on a two-out double by Adam Lind.

But the Rays took a 3-1 lead in the second.

Matt Joyce was hit by a pitch. He scored from second on a two-out single to right by Sean Rodriguez. As Rodriguez ran to third, a Jose Bautista throwing error short-hopped catcher J.P. Arencibia and hit Alvarez, who was backing up home plate, in the left shoulder.

Alvarez continued after receiving attention. "I was hit in the left shoulder right on the bone, but it didn't affect me when I was pitching," Alvarez said through an interpreter.

The Blue Jays tied the game at 3-3 in the fourth with a rally started by a bunt single by Colby Rasmus. He scored on a double to right by Arencibia that went over Zobrist's head.

Rodriguez was charged with an error when his throw on Escobar's grounder to short sailed over first baseman Carlos Pena. Arencibia slid home with the tying run.

Alvarez retired eight in a row before the Rays scored three in the fifth.

Jennings hit a first-pitch homer with one out in the fifth to put the Rays back in front.

Zobrist walked and Longoria hit his second homer of the season, a blast to center, that gave the Rays a 6-3 lead.

"It's a relief to finally hit another one," said Longoria who had four errors at third base in the series. "They feel good when you get a chance to round the bases."

"When I retired those guys in a row, I was ahead in the count," Alvarez said. "When they scored those runs I was pitching behind in the count and they were hitting my pitches."

Joyce made an excellent catch at the left-field wall in left on a drive hit by Arencibia for the second out of the sixth inning and it was a big play considering the way the rest of the inning unfolded.

Hellickson was removed from the game after giving up a two-out walk in the sixth to Escobar.

"Overall not bad but still not as sharp as he can be," Maddon said.

"I can't say enough about our offense these last few games," Hellickson said. "That's where all the credit goes right now."

The way Maddon used his relievers to complete the inning, he could have used three mounds in the bullpen.

Left-hander Jake McGee gave up a single to Kelly Johnson who ended an 0-for-14 drought.

Right-hander Burke Badenhop walked Bautista to load the bases. Maddon then brought in left-hander J.P. Howell to face Lind who lined out to first base to end the threat. Howell also worked the seventh.

Luke Scott nearly broke the game open in the seventh but his long fly to left with the bases loaded and two outs was hauled in by Eric Thames at the warning track.

The Rays scored three in the ninth against Jason Frasor with Scott driving in two with a double and Longoria scoring one with a double. "Today was an outstanding game, one of those career days," Pena said of Longoria's game. "It was an awesome game for him."

The Blue Jays, who stranded 13 runners in the game, loaded the bases in the ninth against Fernando Rodney with one out. But they scored only once on Brett Lawrie's groundout on a juggling play by Rodney. Comments