ST. PETERSBURG, Florida – It's been almost seven years since the Blue Jays last won a series at Tropicana Field.
They'll have to capture both Wednesday and Thursday night's games to break the unbelievable skid, which has reached 19 consecutive series either lost or tied.
Manager John Gibbons, who was in his first tenure as Blue Jays' manager the last time the club took a series from the Rays in St. Petersburg, from April 6-8, 2007, has taken to calling the barren stadium his team's "House of Horrors."
"We've seen some crazy things happen here," said Gibbons. "They open the door. I don't know what it is. It's something and they expect it over on the other side. They've done it so many times, they expect it."
The Blue Jays were waxed, 9-2, on Opening Day Monday, a game in which Murphy's Law applied. Everything that could go wrong did, from R.A. Dickey's unimpressive outing to Jose Reyes pulling up lame with a recurrence of the hamstring inflammation that plagued him late in spring training.
Even Tuesday's 4-2 victory, a game in which Toronto led 4-0 heading to the bottom of the eighth, was a nail-biter at the end. The Rays had the tying run in scoring position with two out in the ninth and the winning run at the plate.
"You know it's tough to win here and it usually takes nine tough innings," said Gibbons.
While it may sound like an obvious, generalized comment, first baseman-designated hitter Adam Lind believes it's important to play with the lead against the Rays and the sooner, the better.
"It's hard to come from behind against Tampa," said Lind. "When you're in the lead, they're out of their comfort zone and when you're running out of innings or wherever they want to be with their pitching staff where they can just tack on a run here or a run there. It's paramount to get a lead against these guys because even when it's 1-0, they're definitely in the driver's seat."
There are teams that are harder to prepare for than others. There are teams that are harder to play against than others.
"It's tough, man," said Lind. "You just tell by how they pitch, (pitching coach) Jim Hickey, it's like we play them every game how they pitch us. They get excellent execution from their pitching staff and their whole defensive side of the ball is probably the best in the game."
Challenges with the challenge
Adam Lind offered the line of the season so far on the topic of manager's challenges and the ramifications of the new rule.
"Well, I know Bud Selig's worked his whole career to get the pace of play up and now we're just back to square one," said Lind. "I enjoy that they're going to have the calls right but I don't think anyone saw the whole, are we going to do it or not going to do it?"
The issue is the stalling. Both John Gibbons and Joe Maddon have emerged from their dugouts to politely dispute a call – that's another problem, the intensity of the manager-umpire argument is all but taken away – while their video coaches review the footage. They're waiting for a signal from the dugout on whether to challenge.
"I think that's just the way the game is going to go now," said Lind. "I guess the higher ups didn't think about that before the whole walk-out but you're going to do whatever you can to get outs or get people safe. Just like (Tuesday) with Gibby, if you still have a challenge left, you might as well use it."
Happ throws a bullpen
J.A. Happ, on the disabled list with a back injury, threw a bullpen session on Wednesday at Tropicana Field.
"He's feeling much better, definitely feeling good, played catch (Tuesday), threw a light side today and really feels no ill-effects from the issues with the back right now and he'll progress accordingly," said pitching coach Pete Walker. "We'll discuss now what the next step is, if it's to get him in a game, when that will be, and progress him from there."
Santos survives ninth
Sergio Santos got the save in Tuesday's 4-2 win but not before the Rays put a scare into the Blue Jays.
Tampa Bay brought the winning run to the plate with two out, in the person of Yunel Escobar, and had the tying run on second base after a double steal on the first pitch of the Escobar at-bat.
Santos didn't bother with the base runners. Why? It all goes back to a conversation he had with Yankees' legendary closer Mariano Rivera in 2011.
"My whole thinking is Escobar's the only guy that can hurt me," said Santos. "Whether there are runners on first and second or second and third, to me, in that situation is irrelevant because I know if I get my job done, which is getting the hitter out, it doesn't matter what base they're on.
"That was one of the things that Mo had stressed was not to be so preoccupied with who's on the bases and what they're doing because the second you give some of your attention on the base runner and you're not fully with the hitter, that's when bad things can happen."