Rays take series opener against Jays

Rays take series opener against Jays

TORONTO -- If the Rays are to contend in the ultra-competitive American League East this year, it is important for the team to be able to bounce back from the tough stretches that every team goes through.

Being swept in a three-game series against the division-leading Red Sox over the weekend provided an example of such a stretch. However, on Tuesday, the Rays (17-15) were able to rebound nicely by collecting a 5-4 win over the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre.

Rays starter Andy Sonnanstine (5-1) was not at his best, but was still able to fight through six innings and gain an inspirational and record-breaking win.

"Andy battled," said Rays manager Joe Maddon. "He totally battled. That's typical Sonnanstine there. A little bit of a bending, but there was no breaking and he gave us the opportunity to win the game."

The Rays' right-hander was able to scatter 10 hits over six innings, allowing just four runs to score. He walked one and struck out two batters. He was also helped out by relievers Dan Wheeler and Troy Percival, who combined to pitch three innings without allowing a hit to Toronto batters.

With Sonnanstine's victory, coming in Tampa Bay's 32nd game of the season, the starter becomes the quickest Rays pitcher to win five games in franchise history. The previous record belonged to teammate Scott Kazmir, who earned his fifth win in the Rays' 35th game in 2006.

The 25-year-old Sonnanstine, who is only in his second year in the Majors, leads the team in victories this season and has posted a 10-3 record in his last 16 starts dating back to last September. His 10 wins are tied for third in the Majors over that span.

"Andy is just such a competitor," said Maddon. "He has always won. Wherever he's been, he has always won. And you look at this game, we got a big lead, we kind of let them back in, but he held tight. He doesn't cave in. That's what I really appreciate about him."

Early in the game against Toronto (16-18), it looked as if the Rays would be in trouble, with Jays starter A.J. Burnett (3-3) striking out five of the first six batters he faced. In the third inning, the Rays were able to get to Burnett, scoring three runs to jump out to an early 3-0 lead.

Against the hard-throwing right-hander, Rays second baseman Akinori Iwamura hit an RBI single that was followed by a sacrifice fly from left fielder Carl Crawford. B.J. Upton then had a single of his own, lined up the middle, that cashed in Iwamura from second base.

"I really liked our at-bats," said Maddon. "You can talk about our pitching, and it was wonderful, but [Burnett] is really good. He was just unbelievable in the beginning. And to come back and get some runs and good at-bats in the game was very nice."

The Jays were able to tie the game at three a piece in the fourth inning on a sacrifice fly by first baseman Lyle Overbay, but the Rays regained the lead an inning later when Iwamura lined an RBI double to center field.

The deciding blow for the Rays, though, came in the sixth inning, when Tampa Bay designated hitter Eric Hinske launched a 2-1 pitch from Burnett off the Windows restaurant in center field. The home run was Hinkse's seventh of the year and turned out to be the winning run.

"Off the bat, I just thought it was a line drive and it just kept going," said Hinske, who added that he had touched the restaurant with his home runs before, as a member of the Blue Jays. "It's always a good one when you hit Windows."

After the game, Maddon praised the efforts of Hinske.

"His home runs have been kind of big," said Maddon. "He waits for the right moment it seems. He's had good at-bats and we've given him some at-bats against lefties and he's hung in there against them also.

"He always has a quality at-bat," Maddon continued. "He goes up there and he is prepared all the time. His work and preparation is great. It doesn't surprise me. He is a professional hitter."

Hinske was just happy to help his team gain a much needed win.

"It was tough in Boston for us," he said. "You lose three in a row and you don't want to get to that fourth game and lose it. So this first game of the series is a huge win for us."

David Singh is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.