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Rays fall short of sweep in Toronto

Rays fall short of sweep in Toronto

TORONTO -- Heading into a treacherous 10-game road trip after the All-Star break, the Rays could have seen their season tank away from home.

Instead, after Sunday afternoon's 5-1 loss to the Blue Jays, Tampa Bay finished the three-city trip to Kansas City, Chicago and Toronto with a 6-4 mark.

After Sunday's loss, Joe Maddon was asked if would have taken 6-4 heading into the trip, and he answered quickly, "Of course."

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The Rays manager then smiled: "But when you have a chance to go 7-3, you really want it."

Sunday's loss snapped a five-game winning streak against the Blue Jays. Coupled with the Yankees' 7-5 win over the A's, the Rays dropped to 6 1/2 games behind in the American League East standings as they welcome the Bombers to Tropicana Field on Monday night for a three-game series.

A day after a high-energy game that saw the Rays come back from deficits of 8-0 and 9-1 to take a 10-9 win, Sunday's final game of the three-game series with the Blue Jays lacked energy, save for the 324 dogs who were on hand for a "Dog Day" promotion that brought staccato barking throughout the game.

"There really wasn't much going on at the beginning of the game," B.J. Upton said. "Both pitchers were throwing well."

Rays starter Jeff Niemann posted three scoreless innings before hanging a slider to Scott Rolen in the fourth, and the Blue Jays third baseman turned the mistake into a three-run homer.

"I hung it and he capitalized," Niemann said.

On the plus side, the rookie right-hander managed to give the team 6 2/3 innings on a day when the bullpen was depleted after Saturday afternoon's 12-inning affair.

However, given the way Blue Jays starter Brett Cecil pitched, Rolen's homer basically put the game on ice.

"[Cecil] set the tone today," Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston said. "I'm proud of these guys and the way they came back and played today, because yesterday was a tough day for all of us, the way we lost. It's hard to come back and get yourself up to play like they played today, but I think Cecil set the tone for us in the way he pitched."

The Blue Jays left-hander allowed one run on four hits in seven innings to pick up his fourth win of the season.

"[Cecil was] throwing a lot of offspeed stuff -- mixing his fastball in, hitting his spots," Upton said. "Obviously we'd never seen him before. I think it's just something we have to keep in the memory bank for next time."

In Cecil's seven innings, the Rays had two legitimate opportunities to push across some runs. Both times, Pat Burrell could not come through. Tampa Bay's designated hitter grounded out with two aboard to end the first, and he struck out looking with two on the sixth.

"We didn't have many opportunities, and the ones that we did have, we didn't capitalize on," Burrell said.

Of those two opportunities, the one in the sixth ranked as the most frustrating. Carl Crawford hit his 10th home run of the season with two outs. Evan Longoria then doubled to right and Ben Zobrist walked to bring Burrell to the plate.

"He'd walked [Zobrist] on four straight," Burrell said. "I wanted to make sure he was going to throw strikes. And he got ahead right away, threw a pretty good breaking ball. [He] made a [nice] pitch inside on me there; I just couldn't get to it. You're trying to get a good ball to hit and put a good swing on it, which I did neither of."

For the season, the Rays are now 17-21 against left-handed starters, a situation that the acquisition of Burrell was supposed to have remedied coming into the season.

"We've had trouble against these lefties," Burrell said. "As a right-handed hitter, you've got to take some pride in that. And obviously, we're not getting it done. I'm not sure I have the answer why. I wish I did."

Sunday's loss notwithstanding, any winning road trip can be counted as a positive.

"I think with all the close games and coming out of the All-Star break on a 10-day road trip, I think things easily could have gone bad, and they didn't," Upton said. "We came out over .500. And obviously, we lost a couple of games in Chicago we felt we should have won, but that happens. We just have to look forward. We've got the Yankees coming in tomorrow. It's a big series. We've got to be ready to play."

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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