Shaun Marcum took a 2-1 lead into the ninth trying to finish off a solid pitching performance by minting a complete game, but the Rays had other ideas.
Sean Rodriguez and Ben Zobrist opened the inning with back-to-back singles before John Jaso hit a slow chopper to shortstop. Alex Gonzalez fielded the ball and flipped to second baseman Aaron Hill for what appeared to be a sure double play.
"My thought the whole time that Jaso was up to bat was, 'If he hits a ground ball, I can't let him turn two here. I've got to go in as hard as I can and make sure they don't get two,' " Zobrist said.
Zobrist upended Hill, who could not complete the relay to first, leaving runners at the corners with one out, which is exactly what the Rays faced Monday night when they lost to the Blue Jays, 3-2.
On Monday night, Evan Longoria was thrown out at home for the second out of the inning when Jaso grounded to shortstop. Two nights later, the Rays appeared to have learned their lesson. Dioner Navarro pushed a bunt toward first base that Lyle Overbay fielded and threw toward home. Rodriguez beat the throw, sliding headfirst across the plate to tie the game at 2.
"They knew, they did know there, they're very savvy, and actually it was bunted a little bit hard and he had some time," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "But, again, Sean, great baserunning at third base."
Reid Brignac followed with an RBI double to left to give the Rays their first lead, 3-2, and finally chase Marcum as right-hander Jason Frasor entered the game to face B.J. Upton. When Upton drew a walk to load the bases, Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston brought in left-hander Scott Downs to face Carl Crawford.
Crawford promptly hit a 1-0 offering into the right-field stands for a grand slam and a 7-2 lead. Crawford's third career grand slam came the same way his other two had: against a left-hander brought in specifically to pitch to him.
The comeback eradicated a lot of things that could have gone better for Tampa Bay in the earlier innings.
Both Blue Jays runs were unearned and came at the expense of Rays starter David Price, who had his "A" game most of Wednesday night. Price ended up going eight innings to pick up his eighth win of the season.
Tampa Bay had a chance to tie the game in the fifth but caught the bad end of a superlative play by Toronto right fielder Jose Bautista. With no outs, the Rays had Navarro and Brignac on second and third when Upton hit a deep ball to right field. When Bautista caught the ball, Navarro took off for home, but he did not arrive before the ball and the Blue Jays had a 9-2 double play. Crawford followed with an RBI single that cut the lead to 2-1.
Then the Rays appeared to tie the score in the sixth when Zobrist singled up the middle and Rodriguez raced home from second. But immediately after Rodriguez scored, the Blue Jays appealed to third base under the premise that Rodriguez missed third base. Third-base umpire Angel Hernandez, who had been the home-plate umpire during Tuesday night's fireworks that saw two ejections, called Rodriguez out. Maddon paid a visit to Hernandez but did not argue in the fashion that got him ejected Tuesday night. Replays of Rodriguez rounding third appeared to show him touching the bag with his right heel.
Seemingly the Rays never let any of those circumstances cloud their vision for what they wanted to accomplish.
"This is just what we do, I guess," Navarro said. "There's 27 outs and we play hard for 27 outs, and that's what Joe has taught us -- to play hard through 27, you know, and see what happens."
Never giving up hope, the Rays played superlative defense to remain in the game. Longoria made two fielding gems that prompted Gaston to comment: "He's quite a player."
And Upton and Crawford performed their usual glove work as well. Upton stole a run from the Blue Jays in the bottom of the sixth when he ran to the wall to make a leaping two-out catch of Bautista's drive that would have scored Hill from third base. In the following inning, Crawford made a leaping catch at the left-field wall to rob Gonzalez of extra bases.
The Blue Jays led for 27 of the series' 29 innings, yet the Rays still managed to take two of three.
"That's probably the best team in the league," Marcum said. "We've played them six times and we've taken them down to the wire every time. Late in the game, they've come back and they've battled. That's probably why they were in the World Series a couple years ago and why they're leading the division."