Until that point, it was anyone's game. After watching the Blue Jays score 10 runs in a single inning one day prior, fans were treated to a showdown that pitted Tampa Bay's David Price, now a 16-game winner, against Shaun Marcum, who had won 11. Neither starter had anything electrifying early on, but both had good enough stuff to baffle hitters, as was made evident by the scoreboard.
"Unbelievable," Rays second baseman Sean Rodriguez said. "That's the Price we've come to know and love right there."
"Marcum pitched a good game and so did Price," Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston said. "We just came up a little short."
Through four innings the game was scoreless, then came John Buck's solo homer off Price in the fifth. The lack of action really betrayed the fact that the game was actually quite good: Price was knee-deep in a two-hitter and Marcum had allowed just three through five innings.
Rodriguez took credit for getting to Marcum that third time, battling his way back from an 0-2 count to drive a full-count pitch deep into the left-field bleachers and tie the game at 1 in the bottom of the fifth.
The Miami native finished 3-for-3 at the plate with an RBI, a run scored and a stolen base. He was intentionally walked in the bottom of the eighth.
"He's hurt me all year," said Marcum of Rodriguez, who also blasted a second-inning triple to the gap to finish a double shy of the cycle. "Seems like every time I face him he gets a hit off of me -- a double, a homer, I don't know what it is. I get ahead of him then I hang a pitch or he works the count until it's in his favor and I have to throw a strike. He's done a great job of barreling the ball up and hitting in the gap, or hitting it over the fence."
The pitchers' duel ended with Marcum's departure after the sixth inning in favor of former Rays reliever Shawn Camp, although Price went eight before handing the ball over. The lefty allowed just four hits during his time on the mound, walked two and struck out seven to lower his ERA to 2.92.
"[My outing] was pretty good," he said. "I threw a lot of strikes. I had two strikes in the first inning, but after that, I was pretty efficient."
Price's gem paved the way for All-Star closer Rafael Soriano, who worked the ninth with ice in his veins after Vernon Wells' one-out triple. It was his Majors-leading 40th save.
With one Minor League star making his Majors debut and Brad Hawpe and Dioner Navarro returning to the grand stage, there was plenty going on Wednesday at Tropicana Field. Desmond Jennings, a 23-year-old outfielder that Maddon called "electric" and a "catalyst" during pregame interviews, was probably the biggest show to take in. Those who were disappointed that the speedster didn't break camp with the Rays after Spring Training were treated to eight innings of Jennings in right field, cutting down everything that came his way and making it look easy.
He finished 0-for-3 at the plate but struck out just once, another quality Maddon appreciated about the youngster.
"He worked good at-bats and saw a lot of pitches," Maddon said. "I thought Desmond handled himself well for the first day up. You want to see that, actually. I wanted to see how he would respond to [coming to the plate with the bases loaded], and emotionally he responded to it well. He was not intimidated by the moment, it just did not work out."
Also making their callup debuts were the catcher Navarro, who collected a hit and worked with Price through his eight innings, and former Rockies outfielder Hawpe, who went 0-for-4 in his American League debut.
Tampa Bay has now won 13 of its last 18 games, and boasts a 38-19 record since June 30. Still, the Rays remain a game behind the Yankees in the AL East and for baseball's best record, after New York defeated Oakland on Wednesday.
"It just speaks to the strength of our division," Maddon said.