Halladay, Jays take opener from Rays

Halladay, Jays take opener from Rays

ST. PETERSBURG -- The Tampa Bay Rays have already managed a pile of impressive feats in this special season of theirs. Defeating Blue Jays ace Roy Halladay four times in a row won't be added to that list.

On Tuesday night, Halladay shook off his recent struggles against this upstart Tampa Bay squad and guided Toronto to a 6-2 victory at Tropicana Field. Still, the pesky Rays -- without two of their top hitters -- still made Halladay work for his win, forcing him out of the game after six innings.

That's a short outing for Halladay, who has done his part to keep complete games in style in recent years. Somehow, though, the Rays have been seemingly immune to Halladay's intimidating pitch arsenal, sending the right-hander to three losses in his first trio of outings against them this year.

Halladay wasn't going to be denied a win for the fourth time.

"I honestly don't know how we beat him three times," Tampa Bay outfielder and former Blue Jay Eric Hinske said. "He's probably the best pitcher in baseball, so you just got to go up there and battle."

The Rays did succeed in that regard.

Tampa Bay fouled off fastballs and cutters and stared at the offerings that flirted with the corners, pushing Halladay's pitch count to a 111 by the end of the sixth inning. Fortunately for the Blue Jays (68-63), Halladay had an ample cushion of run support to use to his advantage.

"It looked like he was just missing," Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston said. "They stayed off the bad pitches and got him up in the pitch count. But, he did fight hard out there and got a well-deserved win."

Halladay held the Rays (79-51) off the scoreboard for the first five innings, scattering just three hits -- all singles -- over that span. By that point, Toronto had grabbed a 3-0 lead against Tampa Bay starter James Shields, providing Halladay with enough aid to up his season ledger to 16-9.

"When Doc is on the mound," Blue Jays center fielder Vernon Wells said, "you've just got to scratch out a few and you've got a chance to win."

In the first inning, Wells used a run-scoring single to plate Marco Scutaro, putting the Blue Jays ahead, 1-0. Toronto's lead grew to three runs in the third, when Lyle Overbay sent a pitch from Shields bouncing into the right-center-field gap for a two-run double.

It was the three insurance runs that Toronto added later that proved to be instrumental in this win, though. Following a two-run hiccup from Halladay in the sixth, allowing Tampa Bay to cut the Jays' lead down to 3-2, Toronto put the game out of reach.

Rod Barajas contributed a solo homer in the eighth and Wells tacked two more RBIs onto his night with an additional pair of hits -- a run-scoring single in the seventh and a solo homer in the ninth. Wells' blast was his fourth in the past three games.

"There were a couple times when the momentum could've swung the other way," Halladay said. "We managed to pick up runs in those innings, as opposed to having a quick inning and keeping the other team in the game. Those add-on runs are big."

The late runs helped quash any momentum the Rays might have gained during their brief rally in the sixth.

Halladay gave up a pair of singles and later struck Willy Aybar with a misplaced cutter to load the bases with two outs. Hinske then roped a 2-1 pitch from Toronto's ace just over the glove of a leaping John McDonald at shortstop, paving the way for two Tampa Bay runs. Halladay quickly recovered and struck out Shawn Riggans to end the frame.

That cumbersome inning essentially forced out Halladay, who finished with seven strikeouts and a wild pitch in the effort.

"Even in some of the quicker innings," Halladay said, "there were good at-bats that were five, six or seven pitches. It takes its toll. Definitely, I felt like I worked. ... I felt like, control-wise, I was pretty decent. They just fouled a lot of pitches off -- made you work."

Halladay noted that, even without third baseman Evan Longoria (who is out with a fractured right wrist) and outfielder Carl Crawford (sidelined with a right middle finger injury), who have given the pitcher fits in the past, the Rays' lineup still didn't include any breaks.

"They still have players in there who have got the job done," Halladay said. "It's definitely different [without Longoria and Crawford in the order]. They bring something else to it, but even with them out of there, I think you kind of keep in mind that, the way they've been playing, there's no letdown, regardless of who's in there."

Halladay knows firsthand what the Rays are capable of doing. Over the past two years, Halladay has allowed 25 runs over 38 1/3 innings against Tampa Bay. Prior to this outing, he was 0-3 with an uncharacteristically high 5.32 ERA against the club this season.

Halladay wasn't going to let that record drop to 0-4.

"You're definitely aware that it's a team that can get you at any point," he said. "So you have to kind of be on your toes and you can never get too comfortable."

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.