Emotion at home will give way to reality on the road.
One day, there are sentimental feelings at Tropicana Field with the return of the franchise’s former ace. The next, there’s a trip north of the border to continue the August grind.
The Tampa Bay Rays survived a strange encounter with their former all-everything, Detroit Tigers left-hander David Price, in a memorable pitching duel Thursday with right-hander Alex Cobb. Price was stellar in the loss, allowing one unearned run on one hit in a 100-pitch complete game. But the combination of Cobb and relievers Brad Boxberger and Jake McGee surrendered no runs and four hits to earn the victory.
The good news for manager Joe Maddon’s men: They begin a two-city, seven-game road trip with much-needed momentum.
The bad news: They’ve lost two consecutive series, and with a seven-game deficit to the Tigers for the American League’s second wild-card spot, time is running short to gain ground.
Still, as Maddon said Thursday, the Rays are road-tested. They’re 33-29 away from Tropicana Field, as opposed to 29-36 within it. Only the Baltimore Orioles (39), Cleveland Indians (37), Kansas City Royals (37), Los Angeles Angels (35), Tigers (35), New York Yankees (34) and Seattle Mariners (34) have more road victories in the AL.
Still, Toronto will be no easy assignment. The Blue Jays are 33-26 at Rogers Centre, which is the second-best home record in the AL East, behind the Orioles’ 34-26 mark at Camden Yards. The Rays must be sharp.
"We just seem to do better," Maddon said of playing on the road. "Tough teams. Interesting situation — Toronto and then Baltimore. But I think our guys are up for the challenge."
One day, there are strange feelings at home. The next, there’s urgency on the road. More tests await.
Here’s a closer look at the upcoming Rays-Blue Jays series…
SCHEDULE AND PROBABLE PITCHERS
James Loney (Rays): He hit .316 (6 for 19) with two home runs and five RBI in five games from Aug. 15-21. He had three multi-hit games in the span, including going 3 for 4 with three RBI in a loss to the Detroit Tigers on Aug. 19. He has hit .289 with seven home runs and 59 RBI this season.
Jose Reyes (Blue Jays): He hit .391 (9 for 23) with three RBI in five games from Aug. 15-20. He had three multi-hit games in the span, including two with three hits each in a loss to the Chicago White Sox on Aug. 17 and a victory over the Milwaukee Brewers on Aug. 20. He has hit .294 with eight home runs and 38 RBI this season.
Yunel Escobar (Rays): He hit .091 (2 for 22) with eight strikeouts in six games from Aug. 15-21. He went hitless four times in the span. He has hit .250 with four home runs and 31 RBI this season.
Edwin Encarnacion (Blue Jays): He hit .200 (4 for 20) with two strikeouts in five games from Aug. 15-20. He went hitless twice in the span. He has hit .273 with 27 home runs and 73 RBI this season.
13: Consecutive games that the Rays held opponents to four runs or fewer, before an 8-6 loss to the Tigers in 11 innings on Tuesday at Tropicana Field. Tampa Bay raced to a 4-0 lead by the end of the second inning, but Detroit rallied to tie the score by the end of the top of the sixth.
15: Times the Rays have been shut out this season, the latest occurring Wednesday in a 6-0 loss to the Tigers at Tropicana Field. They’ve been shut out as many times only twice before, in 1998 (17) and 2011 (15).
1: Hits earned by the Rays against Price in a 1-0 victory over the Tigers on Thursday at Tropicana Field. It marked the first time in club history that they won with one hit or fewer.
"That’s the story of my season." — Reliever Grant Balfour, after he allowed three runs on one hit in the Rays’ loss Tuesday. He faced four batters in the 11th inning and threw 12 balls on 14 pitches.
"From the side, it looked like a wiffleball. It’s like playing in your backyard, and the ball’s just doing all kinds of weird things." — Maddon, after the Rays’ loss Wednesday, when describing Tigers right-hander Rick Porcello. Porcello allowed three hits and struck out four in a 104-pitch complete game.
"At the start of the game, it felt different, just him being on the other side and him being on the mound. And I think you get into the flow of the game, and it becomes a little bit more normal, and you focus on the things that can potentially help you get hits on him and tendencies and how he’s pitching you and so it became bit more normal. But I think it’s one of those things where you play with a guy that long, it’s always going to be a little bit strange." — Third baseman Evan Longoria, after going 0 for 3 against Price in the Rays’ victory Thursday. Left fielder Brandon Guyer earned Tampa Bay’s lone hit against the former Rays ace when he smacked a one-out triple in the bottom of the first inning.