Humming along through five innings, all it took was two mistakes to ruin R.A. Dickey’s Sunday afternoon.
The veteran right-hander had his knuckleball dancing until the top of the sixth, when Tampa Bay’s Luke Scott and Kelly Johnson hit back-to-back home runs on successive pitches to propel the Rays to a 4-3 victory and a three-game sweep of Toronto.
Watch: Rays complete three-game sweep of Jays
“That seems to have been my bane this year. It’s not all the time that you make a mistake with one and it gets hit out of the park. It’s just this year it’s been the case,” said Dickey, the 2012 National League Cy Young Award winner. “You make a mistake and they pop one out.”
With the score tied 1-1 and James Loney on board with a single, Scott belted his ninth home run of the season just over the wall in right to extend his hitting streak to a career-high 13 games.
“His knuckleball is a great pitch, it’s really tough to square up,” Scott said. “It should be illegal to throw that pitch. There’s a reason why he won the Cy Young last year. It’s a real good pitch.”
The Rays (58-41) had barely finished celebrating the two-run bomb when Johnson hit a towering drive into the second deck in right for the former Toronto second baseman’s 15th home run of the campaign. Johnson’s homer marked the fourth time Tampa Bay has gone back-to-back in 2013, including twice against Toronto (45-52), and the sixth time the Blue Jays have surrendered back-to-back home runs this season.
“We needed a little bit better pitching performance than (what) I gave us today,” said Dickey, whose team has lost four straight. “We needed a big one out of me today and I was hopeful to go into the seventh. I felt really good — could have easily gone back out and it’s just frustrating that the results were what they were.”
Evan Longoria also went deep for the Rays, who hit seven home runs in the weekend series.
Toronto scored two in the ninth to cut Tampa Bay’s lead to one when Jose Reyes doubled home Josh Thole and Brett Lawrie, but Rays closer Fernando Rodney struck out Jose Bautista and got a ground balls from Edwin Encarnacion and Melky Cabrera to pick up his 24th save.
“Tough one. We had our opportunity to at least tie the game,” Reyes said. “It is what it is and it’s a tough one. Disappointing.”
Dickey, who has not won since Canada Day and is now tied for the major league lead for home runs allowed with 23, agreed with fellow Toronto starter Mark Buehrle’s assessment after Saturday’s loss that the Blue Jays, who were expected to contend, might be “overrated.”
“It’s hard to see it any other way ... because of our record. I think the capability that this team has is still very, very good,” said Dickey (8-11) after giving up four runs on seven hits and a walk while striking out eight. “We obviously still haven’t put all the pieces together and hopefully we’re going to be able to do that. This is a team that’s not just built for (one) year.”
Rays starter Chris Archer (5-3) had a stellar outing for Tampa Bay, giving up one run on five hits over seven innings. The 23-year-old right-hander also walked four and struck out one batter for the Rays, who have now won five straight games, 13 of their last 14 and 17 of 19 to climb into second place in the American League East.
“I’ve realized where my potential is and I’m striving for that every time out,” Archer said.
Toronto, which occupies the AL East basement, had a chance to get back in it in the bottom of the sixth after Scott and Johnson went deep, but Lawrie popped out to second with the bases loaded for the third out. A large section of the sun-soaked but frustrated crowd of 41,247 at Rogers Centre, which watched the home team waste a number of similar opportunities in Saturday’s loss, voiced its displeasure with a smattering of boos.
“Right now we’re not playing good enough baseball to win a lot of games. That’s just basically what it comes down to. They outplayed us in all three games ... they’re on a nice little roll,” Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. “They’ve got a good ballclub, great pitching. That’s just the way it is.”
Toronto opened the scoring in the second when Thole’s ground rule double to left brought Cabrera home from third.
Longoria tied it in the top of the fourth when he took Dickey’s first pitch of the inning to the opposite field in right for his 20th home run of the season.
Dickey got in trouble in the top of the fifth when Tampa Bay put runners on second and third after two singles and a passed ball, but the 38-year-old struck out both Desmond Jennings and Ben Zobrist to keep the score tied 1-1 before things unravelled the following inning.
“The buck always starts with the guy in front of the camera. If I turn in a few more outings that are better outings we might be at .500. I think it starts with our pitching and me in particular,” said Dickey, before adding: “We are all just spokes in a big wheel and everybody plays a part.”
Notes: Prior to the game, the Blue Jays added former slugger Carlos Delgado to the club’s Level of Excellence. Delgado joins former players Dave Stieb, Roberto Alomar, Tony Fernandez, Joe Carter and George Bell, along with former manager Cito Gaston, former general manager Pat Gillick, late broadcaster Tom Cheek and current president and CEO Paul Beeston in being honoured. ... Dickey only gave up 24 home runs all of last season. ... The Blue Jays activated Cabrera (left knee tendinitis) from the 15-day disabled list and optioned reliever Neil Wagner to triple-A Buffalo. ... The Rays activated Loney off the paternity list and optioned infielder Ryan Roberts to triple-A Durham. ... The Blue Jays open an interleague series against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Rogers Centre on Monday, while the Rays travel to Boston to take on the Red Sox.