Blue Jays 3 Rays 2
TORONTO — J.P. Arencibia and Ricky Romero had extra incentive to deliver a standout performance Thursday.
Romero pitched a three-hitter over seven innings and Arencibia hit a two-run homer in the seventh to break open a 1-1 tie as the Toronto Blue Jays beat the Tampa Bay Rays 3-2, splitting the two-game series.
Romero and Arencibia found out before the game that a 2 1/2-year-old boy they met in April, Ryley James Martin of Oshawa, Ont., had died of leukemia on Wednesday.
“I met the kid, I met the family, I shed a few tears after that home run,” Arencibia said as he held picture of himself with the smiling boy in front of the dugout. “It was for him, today’s game was for him and I’m glad we came out on top.”
Ryley and his family, including his two sisters, had come to Rogers Centre on April 2.
“It was just his smile, just the way he was enjoying himself,” Romero said. “He was on top of the world. It’s definitely something that was special and I will carry it with me forever.”
Juan Rivera also homered to help the Blue Jays (22-21) earn a split in the two-game series with the Rays (25-19) who had home runs from B.J. Upton and Kelly Shoppach.
Frank Francisco pitched the ninth for his fifth save of the season but not without some anxious moments. With two out in the ninth, Arencibia and third baseman Jayson Nix let Upton’s foul ball drop to keep the at-bat going. Upton ended the game with a fly to deep centre.
“That was probably the longest fly ball to centre field in my career,” Arencibia said. “It was miscommunication.”
In seventh, Arencibia followed Rivera’s walk with his seventh homer of the season, a drive to centre on a first-pitch changeup to put the Blue Jays into a 3-1 lead with one out in the seventh.
Wade Davis (4-4) followed the home run by walking Eric Thames and Rajai Davis, but struck out Nix and retired Yunel Escobar on a grounder to short. Davis allowed seven hits, four walks and three runs in 7 2/3 innings.
Romero (4-4), allowed one run, three hits and two walks while striking out six in seven innings. He was replaced in the eighth by left-hander Marc Rzepczynski, who gave up Shoppach’s second homer of the season on a 2-1 sinker that cleared the fence in right and cut the lead to 3-2.
Rivera, making his first start of the season at first base, hit his third homer of the year on a 3-1 fastball with one out in the second as the ball skipped off the top of the left-field fence and over. He also doubled in the eighth.
“He looked very natural, very comfortable there,” manager John Farrell said of Rivera playing first base. “He’s involved more in the game at that position rather than in left field. I think there was some excitement to his game, by the way he moved. He was aggressive on ground balls.”
Upton tied the game with one out in the fifth when he hit his seventh homer of the season to left centre on a 1-0 fastball.
It was only the second fly ball of the game Romero had allowed to that stage. He had faced the minimum 13 batters until then.
Left-handed hitters have been having more success against Romero than right-handers.
“He’s made some personal adjustments with his pitch sequence against some left-handed hitters that has helped him to improve his performance against them,” Farrell said. “And he executed that tonight.”
The key was the command of his fastball and he threw it sometime in counts where he usually throws his changeup.
“I was just mixing up my pitches,” Romero said. “Pitching them in, pitching them away. Just keeping them off-balance.”
Notes: Attendance at Rogers Centre was 12,590 . . . Toronto left-fielder Corey Patterson singled in the sixth to extend his hit streak to 10 games. . . . Right-fielder Jose Bautista was 0-for-4 to end his nine-game hit streak . . . Infielder Edwin Encarnacion who made two errors at first base in Wednesday’s 6-5 loss to the Rays was not in the lineup for Thursday’s series finale. He has made 10 errors, three at first base and seven at third base . . . Rivera played 13 games, 11 starts, at first for the Los Angeles Angels last season . . . First baseman Adam Lind (lower back) is at the minor-league complex in Dunedin, Fla., while on the disabled list and is about 10 days away from returning to major-league action.