ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) - Toronto ace Ricky Romero was hoping to hurt Tampa Bay's playoff hopes in his final start of the season.
It just didn't work out.
Romero yielded a three-run homer to Johnny Damon with two out in the eighth inning, and the Rays beat the Blue Jays 6-2 on Saturday night to move within 1 1/2 games of Boston in the AL wild-card race.
Damon's 16th homer was his third hit of the game and gave the Rays a four-run lead. It came after shortstop Mike McCoy mishandled Evan Longoria's grounder for an error and Ben Zobrist flied out for the second out in the inning.
``It's disappointing,' Romero said. ``I don't want to be the reason they go the playoffs. We want to win every game here on out.'
Romero (15-11) gave up six runs - one earned - and six hits over 7 2-3 innings. The left-hander went 8-2 in his final 12 starts of the year.
``I'm going to leave with my head held high because I know what I did this year,' Romero said.
Romero has one personal goal for 2012: ``Just get better.'
``The way he prepares, that allows him to go out and put together long streaks,' Toronto manager John Farrell said. ``That just doesn't happen by talent alone. There's a lot of work ethic to Ricky Romero. He's a leader in every sense of the word.'
Jose Bautista hit his major league-leading 43rd homer for the Blue Jays, who had won seven of 11. The slugger has 97 homers over the last two seasons.
Rookie reliever Alex Torres (1-1) threw five shutout innings to earn his first big league win in his fourth game this season. The left-hander replaced Jeff Niemann to start the second and allowed three hits.
Damon also had a run-scoring double in the first as the Rays won for the second time in six games. Boston lost 9-1 at the New York Yankees earlier Saturday.
After Brandon Gomes and Joel Peralta worked scoreless innings, closer Kyle Farnsworth pitched a perfect ninth in a non-save situation. Farnsworth had been out since Sept. 11 due to a sore right elbow.
Tampa Bay went ahead 3-2 in the fourth on Zobrist's solo homer. He has gone deep three times over his last seven games after going 39 games without a home run.
Bautista put the Blue Jays up 2-0 during the first when he lined a 3-2 pitch from Niemann into the left-field seats. Toronto failed to extend the lead later in the inning when David Cooper bounced out with runners on second and third.
Niemann had his scheduled start pushed back from Thursday to Saturday because of a sore upper back.
A series of defensive blunders helped the Rays tie it at 2 in the bottom of the first. B.J. Upton singled one pitch after Cooper was charged with an error at first for misplaying a foul ball. Upton then scored when McCoy was given an error after a making an errant throw to first on Zobrist's two-out grounder.
``It happens. ... It's baseball,' Romero said of Toronto's three errors. ``Those guys have been tremendous behind me this year.'
Zobrist came home when Damon flared a ball to short center that dropped between second baseman Kelly Johnson and center fielder Colby Rasmus for a double.
``That's miscommunication,' Farrell said. ``That's a ball that's got to be caught. In that situation, ideally, you'd like to see Colby take charge there and record the out.'
NOTES: Bautista has 11 homers in his last 22 games against Tampa Bay. ... Toronto INF Brett Lawrie (broken right middle finger) will have his offseason program established a week after the season ends when he undergoes a follow-up examination. ... Niemann gave up two hits and walked two during his 38-pitch inning. ... Blue Jays 1B Adam Lind missed his second straight game after returning home for the birth of his child. ... Tampa Bay RHP Wade Davis (10-10) and Toronto LHP Brett Cecil (4-10) are scheduled to pitch in Sunday's series finale.
The Associated Press News Service
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