TORONTO (AP) — His face covered in blood and scrapes, Elliot Johnson looked as if he’d just gone a few rounds with Mike Tyson.
But the only punch Johnson and the Tampa Bay Rays took Friday was one to the gut as they were stung by another narrow loss.
Moises Sierra homered and threw out Johnson at home plate for the final out, preserving Brandon Morrow’s first win since June 6 and leading the Toronto Blue Jays to a 2-1 victory over the slumping Rays on Friday night.
The Rays lost for the 11th time in their past 12 one-run games, a stretch in which they’ve also lost four 1-0 decisions.
“When we get the short end of the stick it obviously hurts because we take pride in winning those close ones for sure,” said Tampa Bay’s Carlos Pena, denied an RBI when Johnson was thrown out.
Tampa Bay fell to 6-20 in one-run games since May 28. It was its ML-worst 11th loss when allowing two or fewer runs.
“Maybe the game owes us a good September of one-run victories,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said.
Edwin Encarnacion hit his 35th home run as the Blue Jays handed the Rays their sixth loss in seven games.
The Blue Jays have won three straight for the first time since July 26-28. Toronto went 9-19 in August.
“That was a pretty exciting moment,” Toronto catcher Jeff Mathis said of the final play. “Just to win the game like that, a close ballgame, was pretty cool.”
Jeff Keppinger singled to begin the ninth off Casey Janssen and was replaced by Johnson, who moved to second on Luke Scott’s flyball. Ryan Roberts struck out looking before Pena snapped an 0-for-17 slump with a single to right. But Sierra made a solid throw to Mathis, who blocked the plate and tagged out Johnson to end the game.
Intent on trying to knock the ball out of Mathis’ glove, Johnson ended up crashing face-first into the dirt around the plate, leaving him with cuts above and below his right eye, up and down his nose, above and below his lips, even on his right hand and knee.
“(Mathis) moved back toward their dugout a little bit so at the last second I couldn’t quite get him,” Johnson said. “I just barely got a piece of him and then the rest of my momentum went into the ground.”
Johnson was due to undergo a concussion test after speaking with reporters, but did not appear to have suffered serious injuries.
“My head sure didn’t feel the best,” he said.
Johnson was the second Rays runner of the game to get nailed at the plate. Matt Joyce was thrown out trying to score from second on Roberts’ single to left in the second, with Rajai Davis picking up the assist.
“They made perfect throws and their catcher did a nice job on both plays,” Maddon said. “Just good execution on their part, unfortunate for us.”
Seeking to bolster their offense for the final month, the Rays acquired outfielder Ben Francisco from Houston for a player to be named. He’ll join the team Saturday.
“Nice outfielder, pretty good hitter, also,” Maddon said. “You put him in the right spots and he can be very productive. He really balances us out even better. If we see a good left-handed pitcher, we could have three righties in the outfield now.”
Starting for the second time after missing more than two months with a strained muscle in his left side, Morrow got a standing ovation when he was replaced in the seventh. It was his first home appearance since leaving injured nine pitches into a June 11 game against Washington.
Morrow (8-5) allowed one run and eight hits in 6 2-3 innings. He walked one and struck out five and threw 102 pitches, 67 strikes.
“I felt good the whole way,” Morrow said. “After the first couple of innings my pitch count was climbing. I settled in and was locating better with the off-speed stuff and staying ahead of guys and that carried me through.”
Steve Delabar came on after Desmond Jennings hit a two-out double in the seventh and got B.J. Upton to ground out.
Delabar struck out the side in the eighth before Janssen finished for his 19th save in 22 chances.
“We did not punish the ball by any means tonight,” Maddon said.
The Rays opened the scoring in the third on a leadoff home run by Jennings, his 11th, but Toronto answered in the bottom half when Sierra drilled a leadoff shot off Jeremy Hellickson.
Encarnacion broke the deadlock when he hammered a ball into the second deck in center in the fourth. The homer was the fourth surrendered by Hellickson in his past two starts; he also gave up two in a loss to Oakland last week.
“I kept the team in the ball game but I’ve got to do better than that,” Hellickson said. “I’ve got to keep the ball in the yard.”
Hellickson (8-10) allowed two runs and four hits in six-plus innings. He walked one and struck out two.
NOTES: The Rays must add Francisco to the 40-man roster so they designated for assignment Albert Suarez. … Tampa Bay will activate RHP Jeff Niemann off the 60-day DL Saturday to start against Toronto. Niemann has not pitched since a May 14 start against Toronto after fracturing his right leg when he was struck by Adam Lind’s liner. … The Rays also plan to recall INF Reid Brignac, C Chris Gimenez, LHP Cesar Ramos and OF Rich Thompson when rosters expand Saturday. … Toronto 3B Brett Lawrie, out since Aug. 9 with a strained ribcage muscle, has resumed swinging after being shut down last week, manager John Farrell said. There is no timetable for his return.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.