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May 28,2014 (ISN) – TORONTO — The Blue Jays’ winning streak is alive and well at nine games thanks to a rare walk-off bunt, and especially thanks to perhaps the best defense the club has played all season in a 3-2 victory over the Rays on Wednesday night at Rogers Centre.

 

Toronto and Tampa Bay were locked into a 2-2 tie as the game headed into the bottom of the ninth inning before Dioner Navarro led off with a single. Anthony Gose then laid down a perfect bunt down the first-base line, and his speed caused Rays pitcher Juan Carlos Oviedo to rush his throw. The ball sailed down the line, and pinch-runner Kevin Pillar ran all the way around the bases as the throw from right fielder Wil Myers came in late.

That allowed the Blue Jays to win their 20th game of May, which is one shy of the club record set in 2003. Toronto has swept its past three series, and while the late-inning heroics played a role it was really the defense that stole this one away from the Rays.

Blue Jays starter Liam Hendriks was technically effective, but the pitching line didn’t even come close to telling the full story. During Hendriks’ first start vs. Oakland he got away with a lot of deep fly-ball outs, and that was the case again Wednesday night.

Hendriks’ final line of two earned runs over six innings looks impressive, but it masks the fact that Tampa Bay hit seven outs to the warning track. There also was a shot by Desmond Jennings that went above the second deck in left field but sliced just foul. Add in a ball that bounced off the wall in center and a two-run shot by Myers during the second and it was a very loud — if not productive — night by the Rays offense.

The other main reason for Hendriks’ success was a series of spectacular plays behind him in the field. In the third, it was Gose bringing back memories of Devon White from the early 1990s by ranging into right-center field and making a leaping grab at the wall. In the seventh, it was Melky Cabrera ranging far to his right and crashing into the wall but still hanging on to make a jumping catch.

The stellar plays weren’t just limited to the outfielders. In the sixth, second baseman Brett Lawrie was playing in shallow right field to cover more ground with James Loney at the plate. A ball was hit to Lawrie’s left and he came up with the diving stab before coming up with an equally impressive throw. Even Juan Francisco, who isn’t exactly known for his defense, got in on the action with a diving play at third base to take a hit away from David DeJesus.

Yet another game-saving play came in the top of the ninth. By that time, Lawrie had been switched to third base in order to make room for Steve Tolleson at second. It’s the move the Blue Jays often make in late-game situations for defensive purposes, and this time the decison paid immediate dividends. With a runner on and two outs, Yunel Escobar hit a slow roller toward third that Lawrie, charged, bare-handed and fired to first to end the inning.

The Blue Jays opened the scoring in the bottom of the first inning off right-hander Chris Archer. Jose Reyes and Jose Bautista both singled, and Adam Lind later walked to load the bases with one out. Edwin Encarnacion followed with a bloop single to right field as Reyes easily scored and Bautista attempted to make it 2-0.

The throw from Myers arrived at home before Bautista, who slid wide of the plate to avoid the tag. The problem is that Bautista also didn’t appear to touch home plate, but Rays manager Joe Maddon decided not to challenge the call and the run counted. That increased Encarnacion’s RBI total this month to 29 as he continues to be the club’s most valuable hitter of late.

Toronto’s two early runs would be all the club could muster off the hard-throwing Archer, who allowed one additional runner to reach scoring position from the second through the sixth inning. Archer allowed six hits and two walks while striking out seven and throwing 66 of his 100 pitches for strikes.

 

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