ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — The Tampa Bay Rays kept their wild card hopes alive with the help of J.P. Howell’s dog Rosie.
The Rays relief pitcher gave credit to his Portuguese water dog Sunday after making a spectacular defensive play in the seventh inning to help Tampa Bay hang on for a 3-0 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays and remain 3 1/2 games behind Oakland.
The Athletics beat the New York Yankees, 5-4, to maintain their lead in the chase for the second AL wild-card spot.
“That’s the play of the year,” said manager Joe Maddon after the Rays’ fifth straight win. “It’s an impossible play to make and (Howell) did it.”
The Rays led 1-0 in the seventh inning, but Toronto’s Anthony Gose was on third base with two out when Colby Rasmus hit a blooper past the mound. The left-handed Howell ran it down and threw across his body to get the out at first base.
“I wrestle with my dog a lot so that’s good; it gets me that angle to just throw it,” Howell said. “The position guys do it all the time so I probably made it look harder than it really is. It’s one of those things where the timing was good; if the guy’s a little faster he beats that out so everything worked out. A little luck was included.”
B.J. Upton hit his eighth home run in 14 games for the Rays and Jeremy Hellickson won for the first time since August 20.
Hellickson (9-10) pitched 5 2-3 innings, giving up five hits and two walks while striking out six. The right-hander has given up only 16 runs in his last eight starts, but has won only two of them.
When Hellickson saw Rasmus’ infield blooper get past Howell, he figured Toronto had tied it and another win had gotten away.
“You see it land and you know the second baseman doesn’t have a prayer,” Hellickson said, “and then he made an incredible play on it.”
Fernando Rodney pitched the ninth inning for his 44th save after Evan Longoria’s two-run double had stretched Tampa Bay’s lead to 3-0 in the eighth.
Upton’s 26th home run came off Chad Jenkins, who was making his first major league start.
Jenkins (0-2) worked five innings, giving up only one hit after Upton’s first-inning home run.
Yunel Escobar had three hits for the Blue Jays, who have lost six straight and 10 of 12.
“We had opportunities in the fifth, sixth and seventh,” said Toronto manager John Farrell. “A two-out hit was elusive, and in the end we’re sitting there with a goose egg on the board.”
It was the 15th shutout of the season for the Rays, who are running out of time as they head for a six-game road trip starting Tuesday in Boston.
“There’s definitely a spark of life,” said Howell. “You can hear our heartbeat going. Put a little pressure on ’em and hopefully they fold; that’s what we’re trying to do.”
The Rays were six games out of a playoff spot before their current win streak.
“This road trip is pretty important, but we’re not going to put any pressure on ourselves,” said Upton. “We’re going to have some fun with it and see what happens.”
NOTES: The Rays won the season series, 14-4, and have won 17 straight home series against Toronto. … Rays C Stephen Vogt went 0 for 2 in his first major league start as a position player, and is 0 for 21 on the season. … Rodney is only one save shy of the club record set by Rafael Soriano in 2010. … In the four games preceding Sunday, the Rays scored 43 runs, the most they have ever scored over a four-game span.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.