John Gibbons liked the Blue Jays’ chances after they belted three home runs and built a 4-1 lead in the early going against the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner.
Unfortunately for the Toronto manager, the Tampa Bay Rays were also zoned in at Rogers Centre.
Ben Zobrist, Wil Myers, Evan Longoria and Kelly Johnson each hit solo homers off Blue Jays starter Esmil Rogers to help David Price pick up his fourth win of the season Friday as Tampa Bay defeated Toronto 8-5 in a game that looked a lot like this week’s home run derby.
Watch: Rays smack four homers to beat Jays
“In this ballpark the ball flies. Once it’s elevated it goes a long way,” said Gibbons, whose team got solo home runs from Edwin Encarnacion, J.P. Arencibia and Brett Lawrie, to go along with a two-run shot from Jose Bautista. “We do the same thing on offence on our side.”
Price (4-5), who is now 7-0 in eight career starts in Toronto, gave up four runs on seven hits over seven innings. The 2012 AL Cy Young Award winner also struck out five and gave up one walk after surviving a rocky start.
“We score four off Price — you feel pretty good about it when you do that,” Gibbons said. “He hangs around. He goes deep in the game every night but you feel pretty good if you can get four off him.”
Ryan Roberts had the go-ahead RBI in the eighth inning and scored an insurance run for red-hot Tampa Bay (56-41), which sits second in the AL East coming out of the all-star break.
“We were playing the best ball we had up to this point of the year leading up to the all-star break,” Price said. “To have that four-day break, you don’t want it to mess up the momentum that the team has and just the winning feeling we have in the clubhouse and in the dugout. That was a big win for us tonight, we hit on all cylinders.”
Brett Cecil (3-1) suffered his first loss of 2013 for the Blue Jays (45-50), who remain cemented in the AL East basement and started the unofficial second half of the season with a thud.
Adding to Toronto’s misery was the fact that the Rays scored four runs off a Toronto bullpen that has been one of the club’s lone bright sports. All-stars Cecil and Steve Delabar couldn’t keep the score tied 4-4 in the eighth as Roberts singled home Johnson before coming around on Desmond Jennings double to give the Rays a two-run lead.
“They’ve been so good,” Gibbons said of his relievers. “They can’t be perfect all year long.”
Toronto put two runners on in the eighth, but Colby Rasmus hit a lazy flyball to left to end the threat.
The Rays then scored two more in the ninth before Lawrie added the game’s eighth home run, his sixth of the campaign, as a consolation.
Rogers gave up the four solo homers on seven hits to go along with four strikeouts over 5 2-3 innings. In two starts against Tampa Bay this season, the right-hander has allowed seven solo homers.
Despite the trouble with the long ball, Gibbons said his starter pitched well.
“That was kind of a funny game for him. When he was on, he was dominating, and then of course the four solo home runs,” said Gibbons, who didn’t think Rogers was tipping his pitches to Rays. “He never really got into trouble, it was just the solo home runs.”
With thunderstorm and tornado warnings issued across Southern Ontario, the crowd of 33,266 inside the sealed-shut and steamy Rogers Centre saw a home run bonanza early on.
Price, who has had an up-and-down season that included 47 days on the disabled list with a triceps strain, now has 13 career victories against Toronto in 17 starts, the most against any opponent.
But it wasn’t easy for the 27-year-old left-hander in the early going.
After Encarnacion gave Toronto a 1-0 lead with his 26th homer of the season into the second deck in left in the bottom of the first, Zobrist tied the score with a solo shot of his own in the top of the third.
Arencibia hit Toronto’s second solo homer in the bottom of the inning, this one to straight away centre field for his 17th of the season. Reyes then singled with one out and stole second before Price surrendered Bautista’s 21st homer, a two-run shot to right-centre that gave Toronto a 4-1 lead.
“I thought he kept getting better,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said of Price. “He wasn’t bad at the beginning, he just threw it in a couple of bad spots.”
The Blue Jays could have blown the game wide open after loading the bases with two outs, but Rasmus popped out to end the threat.
Tampa Bay would make them pay dearly.
Myers made it 4-2 with a solo shot to right in the top of the fourth, his fourth home run of the season. It was Myers’ second against Rogers, who gave up back-to-back-to-back homers, including one to the rookie, in Tampa Bay’s 4-1 victory on June 24 that snapped Toronto’s 11-game winning streak.
Longoria hit the most impressive home run of the night in the sixth to cut Toronto’s lead to one with a moonshot off the facing of the third deck in left for his 19th. Then Johnson tied the score 4-4 with the Rays’ fourth solo home run, this time to right field for his 14th.
“A couple mistakes,” Rogers said. “Here in this league, you pay.”
Notes: Carlos Delgado signed autographs prior to the game in the fan zone outside the stadium. The former Blue Jays first baseman will be inducted into the team’s Level of Excellence prior to Sunday’s series finale. Delgado, who played 1,423 games with Toronto, is the franchise leader in doubles (343), home runs (336), RBIs (1,058) and walks (827). ... Friday marked the start of a 10-game homestand for the Blue Jays that will also see them welcome the Los Angeles Dodgers and Houston Astros. ... Rays right-hander Alex Cobb, who sustained a concussion when he was hit in the head by a batted ball in June, is scheduled to begin a rehab assignment with single-A Charlotte on Tuesday.