TORONTO (AP) — The Tampa Bay Rays are heading to Boston with first place in their sights.
Luke Scott and Kelly Johnson hit back-to-back home runs, Evan Longoria also went deep and the Rays survived a late scare to beat the Toronto Blue Jays 4-3 on Sunday, completing a three-game sweep.
The surging Rays have won 13 of their past 14 games and 20 of their past 24. After starting the season 14-18, Tampa Bay is a major league-best 44-23 since May 8.
“That’s the game we had been losing earlier in the year,” manager Joe Maddon said. “Now we’re winning that same game, and that’s why it looks so good.”
The Rays begin a four-game series against the AL East-leading Red Sox on Monday night.
“Big series, two very good teams, an AL East battle,” Scott said. “It’s going to be some good games, a lot on the line.”
Rays right-hander Chris Archer pitched seven innings to win his fourth straight decision, improving to 4-0 with an 1.62 ERA in his past six starts, including his first career shutout against Houston on July 14.
“I’ve realized where my potential is and I’m striving for that every time out,” Archer said.
Archer (5-3) allowed five hits, walked four and struck out one.
“He was really, really good,” Maddon said.
Jamey Wright pitched the eighth and Fernando Rodney finished in a nervous ninth for his 24th save in 29 chances.
Rodney walked Thole to begin the ninth, Brett Lawrie hit an infield single and Thole went to third on Longoria’s throwing error. Reyes followed with a two-run double, cutting the gap to one.
Rodney struck out Jose Bautista and got Edwin Encarnacion to ground out, with Reyes advancing to third on the play. Adam Lind walked and pinch runner Rajai Davis stole second, but Melky Cabrera grounded out to end it.
“A lot of fun today,” Rodney said. “I made good pitches, the best I have.”
Scott praised Rodney for keeping calm as the tension mounted.
“That’s the type of stuff he has, the type of resolve that he has inside him,” Scott said. “He doesn’t give in, he doesn’t let situations bother him. If you look at him, he’s just the same. He doesn’t get rattled, he doesn’t get panicky. He’s just calm.
“That type of composure is those situations is the best weapon to have.”
All three Rays homers came off Blue Jays knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, who lost his third straight start. Dickey came in 3-0 with a pair of complete games and a 1.13 ERA in his last four starts against the Rays, but couldn’t extend that run of success.
Dickey (8-11) allowed four runs and seven hits in six innings, walked one and struck out eight. He gave up three home runs for the third time this season.
“We need a little bit better pitching performances than I gave us today,” Dickey said.
Dickey has allowed 23 home runs in 134 2-3 innings this season, tied with Los Angeles Angels right-hander Joe Blanton for most in the majors. Dickey gave up 24 home runs in 233 2-3 innings with the New York Mets last season, when he won the NL Cy Young award.
The last-place Blue Jays have lost four straight and 11 of 15. They’re 5-11 in July after going 17-9 in June.
“Right now we’re not playing good enough baseball to win a lot of games,” manager John Gibbons said. “That’s just basically what it comes down to. They outplayed us in all three games.”
Toronto opened the scoring in the second when Thole hit a two-out RBI double, snapping Archer’s streak of 17 inning without an earned run.
Longoria tied it with a first-pitch homer in the fourth, his 20th.
It stayed that way till the sixth, when James Loney hit a one-out single and Scott followed with a homer, his ninth, extending his hitting streak to a career-high 13 games.
Scott had been 0 for 12 in his career against Dickey, and fell behind 0-2, but battled back to a full count before homering.
“His knuckleball is a great pitch, it’s really tough to square up,” Scott said.
Maddon said he gave Scott a little pep talk in the dugout before the pivotal at bat.
“Just trying to build his confidence up because I know Dickey kind of had his number,” Maddon said. “If you keep on swinging, good things can happen.”
Johnson hammered Dickey’s next pitch into the second deck, his 15th, the fourth time this season the Rays have gone back-to-back. It was the sixth time a Toronto pitcher has surrendered consecutive home runs.
The Blue Jays used a hit batter and two walks to load the bases against Archer in the bottom of the sixth, but Brett Lawrie popped out to end the inning.
Blue Jays shortstop Jose Reyes went down in pain in the fifth after he was hit below the waist by Archer’s low pickoff throw to first. Reyes, who stayed in the game, does not wear a protective cup.
NOTES: The Blue Jays activated Cabrera off the 15-day DL before the game and optioned right-hander Neil Wagner to Triple-A Buffalo. … The Rays have won eight straight day games. … Tampa Bay activated Loney off the paternity list before the game and optioned INF Ryan Roberts to Triple-A Durham. … Former Blue Jays slugger Carlos Delgado was added to Toronto’s Level of Excellence in a pregame ceremony. Delgado is the 10th person to receive the honor.