ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Gregg Zaun’s new teammates were well aware of his knack for hitting grand slams. After all, he had a game-winner against the Rays last season.
He gave them another one to talk about Sunday.
Pinch hitting with the bases loaded in the eighth inning, Zaun connected off Brandon League to help give Tampa Bay a 5-2 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays.
It was Zaun’s fifth career grand slam and first since Sept. 6 while with Toronto. The homer came against the Rays, a game-winning drive off Troy Percival in the 13th inning.
“The funny thing is we were talking about it,” Zaun said. “I don’t know who said it, but somebody said ‘Do that stuff for us.’ I said, ‘All right, I’ll do my best.’ Sure enough, today.”
Ben Zobrist had a one-out single off League (1-5) and went to third on Carlos Pena’s double. After Willy Aybar was intentionally walked to load the bases and pinch-hitter Gabe Gross struck out during a 10-pitch at-bat, Zaun sent a 3-2 pitch into the right field seats.
Tampa Bay obtained Zaun in a trade with Baltimore on Aug. 7.
“I just kind of went with my gut feeling, which was a heater with Zaun,” League said. “I just left it in the middle of the zone and he did what he did with it.”
League hit the next batter, B.J. Upton, on the first pitch, which prompted plate umpire Jim Joyce to warn both benches. After talking with Joyce, Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston replaced League with Casey Janssen.
Rays manager Joe Maddon said Upton was not hit on purpose.
“Jimmy (Joyce) had to do it because a grand slam had just been hit. Based on that, and the way baseball world works today,” Maddon said. “By no means was that intentional.”
Dan Wheeler (4-3) pitched a perfect 1 1-3 innings for the win.
Blue Jays rookie left-hander Marc Rzepczynski gave up one run and six hits over six innings. Toronto, which has lost nine of 12 games this season against Tampa Bay, got a ninth-inning solo homer from Marco Scutaro.
“He gave us a chance to win, but we didn’t take advantage of the opportunity,” Gaston said of Rzepczynski. “Just a base hit or a flyball and it’s a different ball game. It’s too bad.”
Carl Crawford put the Rays ahead 1-0 on an RBI double during the third. The AL All-Star went 7 of 12 with five doubles in the three-game series with the Blue Jays.
Toronto tied it 1-1 when Vernon Wells hit a fifth-inning run-scoring single.
Rays starter Matt Garza struggled, but wound up allowing just one run on eight hits and two walks in five innings. The Blue Jays went 2-for-13 with runners in scoring position and stranded nine against the right-hander.
Garza worked out of a bases loaded, no out jam in the third. He retired Adam Lind on a flyball, struck out Lyle Overbay and got a grounder from Vernon Wells.
“He did the Houdini act today,” Maddon said. “He had good stuff, but they kept getting runners on. He battled through it.”
Toronto had two on with no outs in the fourth, but again failed to score.
Tampa Bay was hitless in 11 at-bats with a runner in scoring position before Zaun’s homer. The Rays have won seven straight home series against the Blue Jays.
Notes: Zaun has two career pinch-hit grand slams. The other came on June 27, 2002, while with Houston in a game against Arizona. … Blue Jays rookie LHP Brett Cecil (left knee) is set to rejoin the rotation Thursday. He took part in fielding drills and threw off a bullpen mound. … Tampa Bay DH Pat Burrell (neck stiffness) was out of the lineup for the second consecutive game. He did hit in the batting cage and could start on Tuesday. … Toronto LHP Scott Downs (toe) will stay in Florida for a minor league rehab assignment. He practised defence and threw off a mound. … Scutaro started the game by hitting a grounder to short on the 13th pitch of the at-bat.