Rays finish job with walk-off antics
Young and Upton both come through with ninth-inning shots
ST. PETERSBURG -- B.J. Upton did his best Kirk Gibson impression on Saturday night with a walk-off two-run homer, then limped around the bases to give the Rays an improbable 5-4 win over the Blue Jays in front of a crowd of 19,822 at Tropicana Field.
Upton became a late scratch from the lineup Saturday night after fouling a ball off the top of his left ankle in the ninth inning of the previous night's game. Running aggravated the injury, so the Rays everyday center fielder was available only for pinch-hitting duties.
Given the fact the Rays went to the bottom of the ninth trailing, 4-1, the chances of Upton leaving the bench were remote.
All night long the Rays had waged a losing battle against hard-throwing Jays right-hander A.J. Burnett, who held the Rays to one run on three hits while walking one and striking out eight.
Jeremy Accardo came in to pitch the ninth for the Jays, hoping to close up shop and pick up his 28th save of the year while preserving Burnett's ninth win of the season. Only the Rays are dying hard these days, so the ninth inning brought one last effort to salvage a win.
Carl Crawford led off the inning with a ground ball that shortstop John McDonald appeared to try to make a quick play on to get the Rays speedster. Instead he booted the ball.
"He puts that extra pressure on everybody," McDonald said. "... You play it a little bit different when a guy like Carl hits it."
Crawford went to second via defensive indifference before Delmon Young planted a two-run homer into the stands in right-center field to cut the lead to 4-3.
Accardo appeared to be out of trouble after he retired Brendan Harris on a groundout for the second out to bring up Jonny Gomes.
Gomes stepped into the batter's box with an 0-for-3 on his evening's ledger, but he managed to work Accardo for a walk. That's when Rays manager Joe Maddon called on Upton to pinch-hit for Greg Norton.
"I was looking fastball," Upton said. "... I was just thinking hit the ball hard. Jonny had a great AB in front of me to get on."
Accardo delivered and Upton drove a first-pitch fastball into the right-field stands for the game-winner.
"It was kind of tough to tell [if he hit it out]," Upton said. "I hit it so low. I didn't have that much height to it. But I got enough of it and it got out."
Blue Jays manager John Gibbons sang the praises of Young and Upton.
"Upton and Young are strong," Gibbons said. "That's what happens when you use the whole field. They are dangerous."
Maddon lauded the work of Crawford and Gomes in the ninth.
"Carl putting pressure on McDonald to make that play was absolutely huge," Maddon said. "The hustle play and the great at-bat [by Gomes]. One of our chief tenets is to run hard to first base and Carl sets a great standard for that."
Dioner Navarro, who had just one home run in the first half, hit a solo shot off Burnett in the second to give the Rays a 1-0 lead. For Navarro the blast was his seventh since the All-Star break.
Burnett then settled into a nice rhythm.
"He was rolling," Gibbons said. "He was throwing more, then he settled in -- in the third inning he started pitching."
Burnett got it going on the mound and the Jays got busy at the plate.
Alex Rios' two-run homer in the sixth off Rays starter Jason Hammel put the Jays on top 2-1. Hammel pitched well for a second consecutive outing, giving the Rays a quality start by pitching six innings and allowing just two runs on five hits before Grant Balfour came in to pitch the seventh.
Vernon Wells had an RBI single and Matt Stairs a sacrifice fly in the seventh to push the Jays lead to 4-1.
Al Reyes pitched the ninth for the Rays and became the beneficiary of the comeback win by picking up his second win of the season.
Maddon had his contract extended by the Rays for two additional season on Saturday, so the victory added more to a special day.
"Our pitchers pitched well," Maddon said. "That's a game we should win, and we did win. It was a good game. It was just a good game today."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.