With the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth in a tie game, Rays left-hander J.P. Howell threw a curveball to designated hitter Randy Ruiz that bounced off the Rogers Centre dirt well ahead of home plate, sending Marco Scutaro home and drawing the Jays out of the dugout to celebrate a 3-2 walk-off victory over the Rays.
The win was made possible by a pinch-hit solo home run by Rod Barajas earlier in the frame to tie the game at 2, as well as a solid start by rookie left-hander Marc Rzepczynski. It was a welcome change of pace for the Jays (58-67), who have struggled in one-run games and contests where they've trailed in late innings.
The Jays went into Wednesday's tilt with a record of 15-22 in games decided by one run, and an abysmal 1-53 in games they had trailed after eight innings. They had only scored 19 runs in the ninth inning all season.
"Games have come down to the wire, and it just seems like we're not able to push that one, two runs across the board late in games," Barajas said. "Finally doing this, finally winning one of the close games, it definitely feels good."
With the Jays behind, 2-1, with one out in the bottom of the ninth, Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston pinch-hit for catcher Raul Chavez, sending Barajas to the plate instead. Gaston explained after the game that the move was prompted by Barajas' numbers against Howell -- the catcher was 3-for-6 with two home runs and four RBIs against the Rays lefty going into Wednesday's game.
The move paid off as Barajas sent a 1-1 pitch sailing into the stands in left field in what looked like a sure thing as soon as the bat hit the ball.
"Once I got to that count, I just assumed he was going to throw me something soft," Barajas said. "That's what he does well -- he's able to throw any pitch at any time, and he has full confidence in all of his pitches, so I figured he's going to try to get me out with his out pitch.
"He did throw something soft -- he threw me a curveball, and it ended up being right where I like it."
It was the Jays' second pinch-hit home run of the year -- the first also came courtesy of Barajas, on June 18 against the Phillies.
"Whenever it's a tight game, there's a good chance I'm going to get in, whether they pinch-run for Chavy or something happens. I always have to stay ready," Barajas said. "It's nice when you get called on. It definitely shows that somebody believes in you, somebody has confidence that you can do something to help the ballclub late in the game."
After Barajas' blast, Howell (6-4) walked Scutaro, got second baseman Aaron Hill to fly out, then walked both Vernon Wells and Kevin Millar to load the bases. That set the stage for the wild pitch to Ruiz that sealed the win.
"Walk-off wild pitch. Take 'em any way you can," Gaston chuckled.
While winning a game on a wild pitch is not an everyday occurrence, it's not the strangest thing that happened on Wednesday. A total of three umpires spent time behind home plate.
Jerry Crawford was the home-plate ump to start the game, but left after the second inning due to back spasms, he said after the game. Tom Hallion, who began the game at second base, took over from Crawford.
Hallion was then struck by a pitch in the bottom of the sixth inning. He stayed in the game after being checked out by medical staff but switched places with third-base umpire Scott Barry.
"I have not seen that," Gaston said. "You stick around, you see a lot of things happen."
While right-hander Brandon League (2-5) was credited with the win, it would not have come without a strong performance from Rzepczynski.
Rzepczynski had a no-hitter going until Rays designated hitter Pat Burrell smacked a single to right field with two outs in the sixth.
That hit spared Gaston the unenviable task of deciding whether or not to allow his rookie -- due to be shut down for the year soon, when he reaches his innings limit -- to stay in the game as his pitch count climbed, or take him out of the game with a no-hitter going.
Burrell's single also proved costly, as the next batter Rzepczynski faced, left fielder Gabe Kapler, fired a 1-1 fastball deep to left field for a two-run blast, giving the Rays a 2-0 lead.
Although he held the Rays (69-57) hitless through 5 2/3 innings, Rzepczynski had run into trouble earlier in the game, walking the bases loaded in the third and finishing the night having issued five free passes.
"Who cares about the hits?" Rzepcznski said. "I'm more upset about the five walks. Control is what's going to get me deeper into ballgames, and throwing a hundred and whatever pitches I did in six innings is way too many."
While Rzepczynski was good, Rays starter Scott Kazmir was a little better, allowing only one run and leaving the mound after six innings with the Rays ahead, 2-1.
Luckily for the Jays, they were finally able to plate some runs late in the game en route to their sixth walk-off victory of the season, avoiding a sweep at the hands of the Rays.
"That's a great victory," Rzepczynski said. "It's definitely one we needed."
Erika Gilbert is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less