Important trip beckons for Rays

Important trip beckons for Rays

ST. PETERSBURG -- If they Rays are going to maintain their spot atop the American League East, they're going to have to do it among some hostile crowds.

Following the weekend series in Toronto, Tampa Bay will travel to Boston and New York, three cities in which it is a combined 6-12 this season.

Fortunately, the trip will open at the Blue Jays' Rogers Centre, where the Rays have won the last two series and gone 4-2 this season.

"It's really important for us to win that series in Toronto, because this is probably the biggest road trip of the year," Eric Hinske said.

The ex-Jay -- who routinely receives boos among the Toronto faithful -- agreed that starting the 10-day, three-city trip with a "W" would go a long way momentum-wise.

"In my eyes, it's going to be a tough month," Hinske said. "We only have one off day. Hopefully, we can get it started in Toronto."

The Rays are coming off a home series loss to the third-place Yankees -- their first series defeat since the All-Star break -- and will find another better-than-their-record club in the Jays.

Toronto is a season-high seven games over .500, having gone 38-27 since Cito Gaston took over the managerial reins.

"They want to spoil our opportunity to get to where we are trying to get to," Cliff Floyd said. "You know, you got to go one game at a time and not allow [Friday's starter Roy] Halladay to get in our minds. We all know he's good and stuff, but we got to win."

The Rays are 3-1 vs. Halladay this season and will be gunning to become the first team to beat the Blue Jays ace four times in one year.

And in a series featuring the AL East's top two pitching staffs, the Rays' recently hot bats could go a long way in replicating their success in the Jays' home dome.

"The fact that we are starting to hit helps, because our pitching's been there," Floyd said. "And if we hit and outslug them every once in a while, then our pitching can give up some runs and still be OK.

"It's the end of the season, [and] people are starting to get a little tired. And we have to find our second wind -- to pick it up and get back to our winning ways and feel good about ourselves."

A fourth win against All-Star and 17-game winner Halladay would definitely be a start.

Pitching matchup
TB: RHP Andy Sonnanstine (13-6, 4.61 ERA)
Sonnanstine picked up his second straight no-decision on Saturday against Baltimore, as the right-hander notched a season-low 3 1/3 innings. Three of the Orioles' seven hits went for extra bases and two of those were of the long variety, as Sonnanstine was victim to two homers totaling five runs. A crafty pitcher, Sonnanstine is at his best when he pitches predominantly with his fastball. He is just one victory shy of tying the Rays' record for wins in a season, and he will be facing Toronto for the third time this season.

TOR: RHP Roy Halladay (17-9, 2.69 ERA)
Halladay ended August with a victory over the Yankees on Saturday, finishing the month 5-1 with a 2.06 ERA. Against New York, the right-hander allowed two runs on eight hits with three strikeouts and no walks over seven innings. Over his past 12 starts, Halladay has gone 9-2 with a 2.11 ERA, striking out 78 and walking 15 over 89 2/3 innings. On Aug. 26, Halladay snapped a three-game losing streak against the Rays, against whom he's 10-7 with a 3.84 ERA in 27 career games.

Tidbits
The Rays were under strict rules for their attire on the way to Toronto, as the clubhouse sign instructed the players to don Ed Hardy shirts and black pants. Floyd purchased the popular screen tees for the administrative group, while Scott Kazmir bought them for the new players. ... The Rays will play 17 of their final 24 games away from Tropicana Field, and they are one of three AL teams playing .500 or better on the road, joining the Angels and the Yankees. The club was 19-25 away from the Trop prior to the All-Star break, but it has gone 13-7 since then. ... Double-A Montgomery fell, 7-6, to the Suns in their final game of the season on Wednesday night. Right-hander Heath Rollins finished with a 3.30 ERA, and he was fifth in the Florida State League with 115 strikeouts.

Tickets
 Buy tickets now to catch the game in person.

On the Internet
 MLB.TV
 Gameday Audio
•  Gameday
•  Official game notes

On television
• FSN

On radio
• WHNZ 1250, WGES 680 (Español)

Up next
• Saturday: Rays (James Shields, 12-8, 3.66) at Blue Jays (Shaun Marcum, 8-6, 3.60), 1:07 p.m. ET
• Sunday: Rays (Matt Garza, 11-8, 3.64) at Blue Jays (David Purcey, 2-5, 6.15), 1:07 p.m. ET
• Monday: Rays (Edwin Jackson, 11-9, 4.07) at Red Sox (Jon Lester, 13-5, 3.37), 7:05 p.m. ET

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