"It's going to be up to you guys to vote," Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston said to a group of reporters. "I can't do much about that."
Only Halladay can, though he's quick to point out the importance of a good offense and a sound bullpen in relation to any personal achievements. Often this season, run support has been low for Halladay, costing him victories in games he pitched well enough to earn them for Toronto (74-66).
Such variables make Halladay hesitant to compare different seasons. With four starts remaining in this campaign, the right-hander could top a few of the personal bests he established in '03. Still, Halladay shies away from saying this has been his best season.
"I've never really been a guy to go back and kind of compare," Halladay said. "There are different circumstances. I think the bullpen that we have this year is probably better from what we've had before. That makes you look a lot better."
Halladay (18-9) didn't need much help against the Rays (85-54). The ace spun seven strong innings, allowing three runs -- just one earned -- on seven hits. Halladay punched out seven Tampa Bay hitters to up his season total to 185, and he issued no walks to keep that sum at just 34 in the Major League-high 218 innings he's logged.
For comparison's sake, Halladay finished the 2003 season with a 22-7 record and a 3.25 ERA, completing nine games and finishing with 204 strikeouts and 32 walks in 266 innings. That showing was strong enough to capture the Cy Young. This year, though, Halladay and his eight complete games have a tough competitor in Lee (20-2, 2.32 ERA).
"He's had a great year, and Doc's had a great year," Gaston said. "You know that if Doc had had a few more runs of support, he'd certainly have over 20 wins right now."
That all-important support was there on this night.
In the second inning, the Blue Jays tagged Rays starter Andy Sonnanstine (13-7) for three runs -- two on a double from Lyle Overbay and another on a sacrifice fly by Scott Rolen -- to grab a 3-2 lead. That overcame the costly error by Toronto's Joe Inglett in the first, which opened the door for two Tampa Bay runs.
Then, there was Rios, touching up the Rays' pitching staff in a season he's struggled to find his power stroke. In the third inning, Rios launched a 2-0 pitch from Sonnanstine deep to left field for a solo home run to put the Jays ahead, 4-2. Rios later upped Toronto's advantage to 6-3 with a two-run shot off Grant Balfour in the eighth.
The pair of blasts improved Rios' season total to 13, including a career-high nine in the second half.
"I'm seeing the ball pretty good at the plate," Rios said. "I'm being a little more patient and swinging at balls that I want to swing at, instead of swinging at everything. I think that's one of the things that I've been doing good right now."
For the Blue Jays, who are a season-high eight games over .500, the win was their sixth in a row, marking the club's longest winning streak since a six-game stretch from May 4-10, 2004. The Jays pieced the current streak together with wins over the Yankees, Twins and Rays -- teams that are vying for postseason spots.
Halladay is hoping Toronto can use this late run as something to build on for next season.
"A lot of it is just kind of learning how to win," he said, "and how to win big games that matter. That's got to carry over. Being able to continue a roll and do it against teams that are playing for something, I think that's a part of learning how to win."
For Halladay, the victory was his fifth straight and gave him the most wins he's had in a season since he won the Cy Young Award -- not that he's willing to compare the two campaigns.
"That's why they have statisticians," he said with a smile. "To do that kind of stuff."