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Blue Jays alone in first after rallying past Rays

MLB.com

ST. PETERSBURG -- The Blue Jays were on the verge of being swept out of the Sunshine State until the club rallied for two runs in the seventh and two more in the eighth to steal a victory away from the Rays.

Russell Martin hit the go-ahead home run in the top of the eighth and second baseman Devon Travis picked up a key two-run single as Toronto pulled out a 5-3 victory on Sunday afternoon at Tropicana Field. The victory allowed the Blue Jays to avoid losing three games in a row for the first time since June 21.

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ST. PETERSBURG -- The Blue Jays were on the verge of being swept out of the Sunshine State until the club rallied for two runs in the seventh and two more in the eighth to steal a victory away from the Rays.

Russell Martin hit the go-ahead home run in the top of the eighth and second baseman Devon Travis picked up a key two-run single as Toronto pulled out a 5-3 victory on Sunday afternoon at Tropicana Field. The victory allowed the Blue Jays to avoid losing three games in a row for the first time since June 21.

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The victory allowed the Blue Jays to pull one game ahead of the Red Sox for first place in the American League East following Boston's loss in Oakland. Toronto's lead over third-place Baltimore increased to three games after the Orioles lost to the Yankees on Sunday afternoon.

"That was a real big one today," Travis said. "[The Rays] are always tough. That is a club full of fighters. They have some really good players. Obviously, when Chris Archer is on the mound, that makes it even tougher. … That was a really solid win today."

Toronto reliever Joaquin Benoit picked up the victory with a scoreless inning of relief while right-hander Danny Barnes played a crucial role by not allowing a run over his 2 1/3 innings out of the bullpen. Blue Jays starter J.A. Happ allowed three runs and recorded just eight outs because of a high pitch count that reached 85 before the third inning was over.

Rays righty Kevin Jepsen took the loss after he opened the eighth inning by walking Dioner Navarro and then allowing the homer to Martin. Starter Archer was saddled with the no-decision despite departing in the seventh inning with a 3-1 lead. Archer was charged with two runs on five hits while striking out nine over 6 1/3 innings.

"I felt good," Archer said. "Just unfortunate that we couldn't do enough to win today."

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
The return of the long ball: Toronto is known for hitting home runs, but its power stroke went missing for most of this week until Martin went deep in the top of the eighth. The veteran catcher's 17th of the year was a two-run shot to left, which put the Blue Jays in front, 5-3. That snapped a skid of 27 consecutive innings without a home run for Toronto. Martin has 10 home runs since the start of August, which is three more than he had in the first four months of the year. According to Statcast™, Martin's latest was projected to travel 386 feet and left his bat at 102 mph.

"Typically, you're looking for a pitch that's out over the plate, and that's what I got," Martin said after picking up the second home run of his career on a 3-0 count. "There's really one pitch, one spot -- if it's not there, you take it. If it's there, you have to let it rip, and it ended up in my happy zone." More >

Video: Must C Clutch: Martin hammers go-ahead two-run homer

Devon delivers: Blue Jays second baseman Travis might be hitting out of the No. 9 spot, but he has become one of the club's most valuable offensive contributors during the second half of the season. Toronto was trailing, 3-1, in the top of the seventh inning when Travis hit a bases-loaded single through the left side of the infield, which scored a pair of runs. Travis leads the Blue Jays with 52 hits since the All-Star break and is batting .458 (11-for-24) with seven RBIs vs. the Rays this season.

"It was a first-pitch changeup," Travis said. "I was just looking for something up in the zone. To be completely honest, after I hit it I wasn't even too sure what I even hit. I was just looking for something up in the zone and thankfully I snuck it by [Evan Longoria]." More >

Video: TOR@TB: Travis ties game in 7th with two-run single

Archer avoids 18th: Archer deserved better on Sunday when he gave the Rays a quality start, but came away with a no-decision. The righty allowed two runs on five hits while walking one and striking out nine in 6 1/3 innings. When he left the game with a man on and one out in the seventh, the Rays led, 3-1. But Brad Boxberger struggled and the Blue Jays scored twice in the inning. Archer did avoid getting tagged with his 18th loss, which would have tied the club's single-season record for losses held by Tanyon Sturtze.

Video: TOR@TB: Archer strikes out Encarnacion to escape jam

Bullpen blues: Boxberger couldn't hold a 3-1 lead in the seventh, getting charged with one run in his two-thirds of an inning (the other got charged to Archer). Jepsen took over in the eighth and walked Navarro to lead off the inning before falling behind, 3-0, to Martin. He paid for it as Martin jumped a 92-mph fastball and deposited it into the left-field stands for his 17th home run of the season and a 5-3 Blue Jays lead. In the Rays' past two games, the bullpen has allowed seven earned runs in 6 1/3 innings for a 9.95 ERA.

"Their bullpen came in and did a really good job for them," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "Kept it right there. And our bullpen came in and seemed to struggle a little bit. They got hits, they got walks. And then the big home run from Russell Martin."

QUOTABLE
"We get on the bird, have a happy flight. Any time you can come back and score some runs to win a game, it feels good. Took some heat off Happer there. I feel like he threw the ball pretty well, they were just fighting him and got his pitch count up. It's definitely nice, after you lose two in a row, you don't want to lose three in a row and get swept by a team. We were able to pull it off."
-- Martin, on avoiding the sweep

SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
While the Rays' bullpen didn't deliver on Sunday, Danny Farquhar did. The right-hander allowed one hit while striking out two in one inning. Since Aug. 13, Farquhar has a 0.82 ERA with 16 strikeouts in 11 innings.

Toronto's late rally helped Happ avoid becoming the first 17-game winner to lose to a 17-game loser since California's Chuck Finley lost to Detroit's Jack Morris on Sept. 18, 1990, at Anaheim Stadium.

GIBBONS TOSSED
Blue Jays manager John Gibbons was ejected by home-plate umpire Pat Hoberg for arguing a called third strike in the top of the fourth inning. Martin took a slider up in the zone that he believed was high, but Hoberg disagreed and then tossed Gibbons for the ensuing argument. It was the sixth time this season that Gibbons has been ejected from a game. Gibbons' argument did seem to save Martin from getting ejected, as the veteran catcher appeared to be on the verge of getting tossed before the Toronto manager made sure all of the attention went on himself.

"There was some emotion going on both sides," said Blue Jays bench coach DeMarlo Hale, who took over for Gibbons in the dugout. "Pat behind the plate, he's doing his job, but this time of the year, September, hopefully umpires expect a little barking, you know, because it's an emotional game and these guys are in every moment, and so is this coaching staff. I don't know whether [Gibbons] got us going getting tossed out, but that's part of his job, you know. You want to keep the guys in the game and let them play and let them win the ballgame."

Video: TOR@TB: Gibbons ejected after arguing strikeout

WHAT'S NEXT
Blue Jays: The Blue Jays will face a quick turnaround when they head to New York for a three-game series against the Yankees. Knuckleballer R.A. Dickey (9-13, 4.43 ERA) will take the mound for the Labor Day matinee affair, with first pitch scheduled for 1:05 p.m. ET. Dickey allowed three runs or fewer in four of his five starts in August.

Rays: Matt Andriese (6-6, 4.19 ERA) will start Monday's opener vs. the Orioles at 1:10 ET hoping to end the skid he's experienced in his last 14 appearances (seven starts) that has seen him go 0-6 with a 5.47 ERA. The right-hander has more losses during his current streak than he had in the first 35 appearances of his career. He is 0-2 with a 7.04 ERA in four career appearances against the O's.

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Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.

Bill Chastain has covered the Rays for MLB.com since 2005.