TORONTO -- Josh Donaldson is doing just about everything in his power to get the Blue Jays back into contention for the second American League Wild Card. On Thursday afternoon, he also got a major assist from Justin Smoak.Donaldson homered twice and Smoak hit the go-ahead shot in the eighth
TORONTO -- Josh Donaldson is doing just about everything in his power to get the Blue Jays back into contention for the second American League Wild Card. On Thursday afternoon, he also got a major assist from Justin Smoak.
Donaldson homered twice and Smoak hit the go-ahead shot in the eighth inning as the Blue Jays survived a late rally from the Rays to secure their third consecutive series victory with a 5-3 win at Rogers Centre. Donaldson has multiple hits in five consecutive games, and his 21 RBIs this month are tied with Baltimore's Manny Machado for the most in the AL.
Toronto carried a 3-2 lead into the eighth inning, but the Rays evened the score on a double by Evan Longoria. The tie proved to be short-lived, as Donaldson walked and came around to score on Smoak's 33rd home run of the season. Right-hander Chris Rowley picked up a no-decision after allowing a pair of runs over five innings; the win went to Dominic Leone, who allowed the tying run in the eighth.
"He has been unbelievable, and I think it has just been a matter of time, coming back from injury and stuff like that, to get his timing," Smoak said of Donaldson. "The last two weeks have been really impressive, and honestly it's something, being here the last few years, you just expect. Good for him and good for us that he's on the tear he is right now."
Now the Blue Jays head to Wrigley Field for the first time in 12 years to take on the defending World Series champion Cubs. With the victory, Toronto pulled within three games of the Angels for the second AL Wild Card spot.
"I've gotten on that plane many times after a loss, still good food, but there's no doubt you want to leave feeling good," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "The lows in this business last longer than the highs, I know that for a fact. But we have to turn around, day game [Friday] ... quick turnaround, but there will be energy there with the World [Series] champs. It's a great place to play."
The Rays dropped to three games back, and they have now lost 10 of their past 13 games. Tampa Bay has not won a series since it swept the Astros on the road at the start of the month, and it will need to rebound quickly to hang on to potential contender status.
Right-hander Chris Archer settled for a no-decision after he limited the Blue Jays to three runs over seven strong innings. The loss went to reliever Tommy Hunter, who surrendered the two-run homer to Smoak that was projected to travel 408 feet, according to Statcast™. It was Smoak's third home run of the month and his second over the past five games.
"I really liked the way Archer threw the ball," Rays manager Kevin Cash said after the loss. "He gives up two solo homers to Donaldson, who hits his home runs, as we all know. Gave us more than enough of an opportunity to win."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
The escape artist: Blue Jays reliever Danny Barnes entered in the sixth inning facing a less-than-enviable position. Tampa Bay was trailing, 3-1, but it had the bases loaded with nobody out, pinch-hitter Trevor Plouffe due up and the top of the order waiting for its opportunity. Barnes got Plouffe to hit an infield popup and then induced a fielder's-choice grounder off the bat of Brad Miller. Two batters later, Lucas Duda grounded out as Toronto escaped with just one run allowed and its lead intact.
"It was a heck of a series, a hard-fought series, and our guys played great," Gibbons said. "We're playing good baseball. The home run ball was the big difference today, no doubt, the rally was good, but our bullpen keeps hanging in there. ... Just a real good all-around series, good baseball."
Bringer of Rain: Donaldson hit his AL-leading 10th first-inning homer of the season, and he followed that up with another solo homer in the fifth. It was the 13th multi-homer game of his career and third of the season. He has five home runs and nine RBIs over his past five games and nine homers this month. According to Statcast™, Donaldson's first home run was projected to travel 398 feet, and his second went a projected distance of 424 feet.
"Donaldson's just hot right now," Archer said. "I didn't execute a couple pitches, and he took advantage. We haven't seen a hitter that hot in a while."
"We have to start winning, or else September's not going to be as fun as it could be. I think that we are capable. I think that we will, but we need to start tomorrow." -- Archer
"I don't know if you're ever due against a guy like that, he has really good stuff. Obviously we've faced him a lot, but you never really come expecting to have a day like today off a guy like that. He's really good." -- Donaldson, who entered play on Thursday batting .138 with no extra-base hits in 29 at-bats vs. Archer, on hitting a pair of home runs off the Rays' ace
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
The Blue Jays are within three games of .500 for the first time since June 28. They have also won three consecutive series for the first time since May 23-31.
ARCHER RECORDS 1,000TH CAREER STRIKEOUT
Archer notched his 1,000th career strikeout, getting Miguel Montero swinging in the fourth. The Rays ace joins James Shields and David Price as the only pitchers to accomplish the feat with Tampa Bay. By doing it in just 929 innings, Archer is also the fastest Rays pitcher to reach 1,000 and just one of nine pitchers in MLB history to reach the milestone in 154 games.
"I might feel a little bit better about it when we get back to Tampa or tomorrow," Archer said after the game. "But right now, it's irrelevant."
Rays:Austin Pruitt (6-3, 5.07 ERA) will open Tampa Bay's series at home against the Mariners on Friday at 7:10 p.m. ET. The right-hander has turned a corner in August, posting a 1.96 ERA over his past three outings. Pruitt pitched at least six innings in each of those starts and walked just three batters in 18 1/3 innings.
Blue Jays: Left-hander J.A. Happ (6-8, 3.63 ERA) will take the mound when the Blue Jays open a rare Interleague Play series against the Cubs at Wrigley Field on Friday, with first pitch scheduled for 2:20 p.m. ET. This marks just the second time in franchise history that Toronto will play at Wrigley Field -- it hasn't happened since 2005.
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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.
Keegan Matheson is a reporter for MLB.com based in Toronto.