Sonnanstine leads Rays' sweep of Jays
Longoria, Hinske help team to first three-game win streak
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Prior to Wednesday night's game, manager Joe Maddon said the decision to sandwich rookie Evan Longoria in the No. 5 hole to break-up left-handed hitters Carlos Pena and Eric Hinske was a lineup move that the club would continue to monitor.
It looked pretty good Wednesday night as Longoria had a clutch two-out, two-RBI single to tie the score, and Hinske delivered the eventual game-winning RBI.
The decision looked even better on Thursday, as Longoria and Hinske proved once again to be the center of the Rays' offense, contributing to four of the five runs scored, as Tampa Bay swept the Disney World series from Toronto, with a 5-3 win.
Longoria was 2-for-2 and twice produced the game's tying run, crossing the plate in the fourth and hitting a sacrifice fly in the fifth. What was even more impressive to Maddon was the 22-year-old's ability to drive the ball both ways, notching a double to right field and a triple to left center.
"He's a gap-to-gap hitter, which is always the most difficult hitter to pitch to and the most productive," Maddon said. "He's mentally tough, he stays in every at-bat, [and] he never really looks frustrated."
Longoria scored off a single in the fourth inning from Hinske, and the ex-Jay notched another RBI off a fielder's choice and throwing error from Toronto second baseman Aaron Hill.
"You pull for a guy like 'Ske, just not against us," Jays manager John Gibbons said. "He's one of the good ones and did a lot of good things for us. He's locked in right now. He's a good hitter. ... He's hurt us."
Rays starter Andy Sonnanstine appeared to be locked in after a few rocky moments in the first few innings.
"Overall, it all felt real good; I had a couple mental mistakes," Sonnanstine admitted. "I got to give a lot credit to the hitters who had a lot of professional at-bats."
One of those said mental mistakes occurred after David Eckstein's sacrifice bunt, as home plate was left unprotected and the confusion allowed Toronto's Gregg Zaun to score.
"I expect a lot out of myself; I should have covered," Sonnanstine said.
Maddon said it was a tough call, but would have preferred catcher Dioner Navarro to cover the base in that situation.
"I think they just forgot there was another runner there," he said. "Because obviously Sonny thought it was his fault, Navi thought it was his fault -- which I like, that both guys stood up to the plate. To me, once the catcher dumps it [the ball] he's got plenty of time to get back to the plate."
Although it would be nearly impossible to replicate the complete-game, three-hit shutout from his previous start, Sonnanstine turned in a solid performance. The right-hander allowed six hits and three earned runs in 6 1/3 innings pitched.
The Jays hurlers weren't nearly as lucky, as Toronto used six different pitchers, including three arms in the first five innings. Starter Dustin McGowan was yanked after he loaded the bases with no outs in the fifth, but it didn't help the Blue Jays much, as the Rays went on to score three runs, putting them up, 5-3, which held up as the game's final tally.
But it wasn't exactly smooth sailing in the game's final inning, as closer Troy Percival survived a scare when he allowed the Jays' first two batters on board. The veteran promptly retired the final three batters, picking up his fourth save of the season, and No. 328 of his career.
Percival is currently ranked 11th on the all-time list, and is now just two saves shy of 10th-place John Wetteland. Maddon said that the right-hander made an "eloquent" case to toss on Thursday night, and picked up his third straight save.
"It doesn't mean anything for me other than the fact that I had a chance to come in and help us get some wins," Percival said. "I'm just another cog in the wheel."
That wheel seems to be rolling around just fine, as the win marks the first time the Rays have won three consecutive games this year, and only the second time the club has won a series. The team's 11 wins in the first 22 games matches its previous bests from the 1998 and 1999 seasons.
The Rays leave Disney World a perfect 6-0, with a .500 record and a renewed sense of optimism.
"I don't know [why] we've always played well here," Sonnanstine said. "If we get to the playoffs, I'd like to play here."
And for a team that has never even finished .500, perhaps the Rays will leave Disney World having finally found a little magic.
Brittany Ghiroli is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.