Purcey leads Jays to eighth straight
Teammates appreciate effort from rookie left-hander
TORONTO -- David Purcey walked into the Blue Jays' clubhouse on Sunday, glove in hand, and received an unusual welcome from his teammates. As the rookie pitcher made his way to his locker, the other players in the room began to clap in unison.
As claps and cheers that filled the room grew louder in volume, a bashful smile grew larger on Purcey's face. The applause stemmed from Purcey's dismantling of the Rays in a 1-0 victory at Rogers Centre, where the Blue Jays swept their way through an entire homestand.
"That's a new experience for me," Purcey said with a grin. "Normally, everyone's just like, 'Good job.' That's a new experience, and I liked every bit of it."
The afternoon brought a bit of payback for Purcey, who was paired against Tampa Bay's Matt Garza in a rematch of a contest between the clubs on Aug. 27. On that night in St. Petersburg, Purcey turned in the strongest outing of his young career, but he wound up with a hard-luck loss in another 1-0 result.
This time around, the 26-year-old Purcey received the run of support that eluded him in his previous start against the Rays. That turned out to be enough to back Purcey's eight shutout innings, helping the Jays (76-66) clinch their eighth straight victory. That represents the club's longest winning streak since capturing eight in a row in April 1999.
For the American League East-leading Rays (85-56), it was the first time in their history they faced the brooms in a series against the Jays. Toronto finished its six-game homestand undefeated, marking just the second such run in the franchise's existence, and it did so against playoff contenders in Minnesota and Tampa Bay.
"We have something fun going here," Blue Jays catcher Rod Barajas said. "We're playing great baseball, and we're not doing it against the lower teams in the standings. We're doing it against some pretty good teams. We're a good ballclub, and we're showing it right now.
"If we would've had a little better first half, we'd be in a lot better situation."
Instead, this late push has done little to help Toronto's place in the standings. What it has done is make life miserable for the teams being toppled by the Blue Jays. Next up are the potentially October-bound White Sox and Red Sox, who will host the Jays for four games apiece over the next week.
Both Chicago and Boston have benefited from Toronto's eight-game streak. The Twins have slipped behind the White Sox in the AL Central, and -- thanks to Purcey -- the Rays' grip on the top spot in the East is a little looser. The 6-foot-5 rookie has given Tampa Bay's lineup fits twice now.
"I don't know exactly his magic," Rays manager Joe Maddon said.
It's simple, really.
"I throw strikes against them," said Purcey, who finished with seven strikeouts and three walks. "This is the second time I've faced Garza, and he's a good pitcher. Both games have been real close, and those are the kind of games I like pitching in, where it's real intense."
In his last two outings against Tampa Bay, Purcey (3-5) has found the strike zone on a consistent basis. When facing the Rays, Purcey has thrown strikes at a 70-percent rate -- compared to just 57 percent in his other eight outings. As a result, he's logged 16 innings with just one run allowed.
"That would be nice if he pitched like that every time out there," Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston said. "Once again, he threw strikes. It was just the opposite of what happened last time. We scored the run, and they didn't. Garza -- the kid over there -- pitched a great game, too."
Garza (11-9) was sharp, yielding just one run with seven strikeouts in seven innings, but his one bump in the road cost him. In the second inning, Adam Lind led off with a double, and he later came around to score on a sacrifice fly from Barajas. That ended Garza's run of 25 1/3 consecutive shutout innings against Toronto.
"It held up," Barajas said of the one Blue Jays run. "Our pitching was awesome."
Barajas also helped out with his arm, retrieving an errant second-inning slider from Purcey out of the dirt and quickly firing to first base to pick off Tampa Bay's Willy Aybar. In the fourth inning, Purcey followed suit, staring down Rays outfielder B.J. Upton until the pitcher seemingly willed him to run.
Upton broke for second base, and Purcey stepped off the pitching rubber and easily threw him out to bring an abrupt end to the inning.
"He started kind of budging, just moving just a little bit," Purcey said. "So I just said, 'I'm just going to wait it out.' He ended up breaking, thinking I was going to go home, because I got into a pattern of just going home right away."
The Rays threatened in the eighth inning by loading the bases with two outs against Purcey, but he induced a flyout off the bat of Rocco Baldelli to escape unscathed. Gaston then turned to left-hander Jesse Carlson, who filled in for closer B.J. Ryan -- who was off after pitching in each of the past two games -- and picked up the save.
After watching Purcey dominate for eight innings, putting Toronto three outs away from its eighth straight win, Carlson was thrilled to take the ball.
"I just wanted to hold the lead for him," Carlson said. "I came in and was going right after the hitters -- throwing strikes. It was a great win for the team, and we're keeping it rolling."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.