ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – A struggling Pat Burrell hopes he’s on the verge of turning his season around.
Mired in a 4-for-34 slump, the Tampa Bay slugger hit a two-run homer in the 11th inning Tuesday night, giving the Rays a 3-1 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays and ending a four-game losing streak. Burrell also thinks the walk-off shot into the left centre-field stands may be exactly what was needed to set up a productive second half of the season.
“We got a long way to go, and I haven’t been performing. It’s that simple,” said Burrell, who signed a US$16-million, two-year contract with Tampa Bay in January after spending nine years with the Philadelphia Phillies.
“As you go along in the season, you try to build on things,” added Burrell, who missed 29 games in May and June with a neck strain and is hitting .222 with four homers and 25 RBIs. “I’m hoping this is one of those times.”
The AL champions stopped a skid that included three losses to rookie pitchers, but hardly pulled out of an offensive funk – managing just two hits in six innings against Marc Rzepczynski in the 23-year-old lefty’s major league debut.
The Rays finished with four hits overall, two after the fourth inning, when Rzepczynski walked three, including Gabe Kapler with the bases loaded, to fall behind 1-0.
“He pitched a lot better I think than all of us felt he was going to pitch,” Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston said. “He will certainly get another chance.”
Toronto’s Scott Rolen tied it in the eighth with a run-scoring single that extended his career-best hitting streak to 24 games.
Burrell, who is 10-for-64 in 21 games since coming off the disabled list on June 11, hit his fourth homer of the season, connecting off Brandon League (1-4) with two outs. Dan Wheeler (3-1) pitched two scoreless innings to get the win for the Rays, who were outscored 25-7 during their losing streak.
Rzepczynski, 9-5 with a 2.69 earned-run average in 16 starts for double-A New Hampshire and triple-A Las Vegas, walked four and struck out seven in six innings. Shawn Camp was sharp in relief, too, working three scoreless innings before being replaced by League.
“It’s unfortunate we couldn’t pull it out,” Rzepczynski said.
The Rays loaded the bases in the fourth on Ben Zobrist’s single and two walks. Kapler fell behind Rzepcznski in the count 0-2 before drawing four straight balls to force in the first run of the game.
After allowing four hits over the first three innings, Tampa Bay starter James Shields seemed to get stronger as the night progressed.
The Rays right-hander set the Blue Jays down in order in the fourth, fifth and sixth and had retired 11 in a row when Vernon Wells singled off the back of his leg in the seventh for his second infield hit of the night.
Shields, who gave up one run and seven hits in seven-plus innings, worked out of jams with runners in scoring position in the second, third and seventh innings before Toronto finally broke through in the eighth.
Marco Scutaro and Aaron Hill singled to end Shields’ night. Rolen’s single off Chad Bradford tied the game, and the Blue Jays threatened to take the lead when Wells singled to centre off Howell with two outs.
But B.J. Upton’s throw to the plate cut down Hill trying to score from second base to end the inning.
“Perfect throw,” Hill said. “What can you do? You tip your hat.”
Notes: Tampa Bay’s Carl Crawford went 0-for-5, ending a 13-game hitting streak. … Rays all-star 3B Evan Longoria, who hasn’t homered in his past 16 games, was also hitless and is in a 2-for-31 slump. … Toronto closer Scott Downs (left big toe) threw off a bullpen mound and will have his status re-evaluated Wednesday. … Blue Jays RHP Shaun Marcum (right elbow) could be ready to return in early August. He threw three scoreless innings for single-A Dunedin Monday night.