Jays rally late to give Ray first victory
Offense scores twice in the eighth to back righty's solid start
TORONTO -- Cito Gaston headed into the Blue Jays' clubhouse on Saturday, searching for rookie pitcher Robert Ray. The manager's meeting with reporters could wait. Gaston wanted to shake Ray's hand to congratulate him on picking up the first win of his Major League career.
It was a special moment that nearly didn't come to pass, but a late rally by the Blue Jays paved the way for a 2-1 victory over the White Sox at Rogers Centre. By the slimmest of margins, the soft-spoken Ray walked away with a win after handcuffing Chicago's lineup for eight innings.
Shortly after his brief meeting with Gaston, Ray couldn't stop smiling.
"Best feeling yet," Ray said. "It's awesome to get called up here for the feeling that you did make it up here. Then, your first strikeout. But that's the one -- the win -- that's the one you really want. It means the most for me, for sure."
It also meant something for the Blue Jays, who improved their American League-leading record to 25-14, pushing the club a season-high 11 games over the break-even mark. Ray's outing also added another element to the complicated rotation situation that is currently facing the team.
When Ray and fellow rookie Brett Cecil were promoted from Triple-A Las Vegas on May 1, they were expected to stay with the Jays until injured starters Ricky Romero and Casey Janssen were ready to return. Romero and Janssen are now off the disabled list and pitching in the Minors, but the starters with Toronto have done nothing to lose their jobs.
Ray had no experience higher than Double-A prior to this season and his name wasn't among those listed as rotation candidates this past spring. That being the case, the right-hander wasn't sure how many starts Toronto had in store for him when he was called up. Ray was just thrilled to make it to the big leagues.
"I knew I was probably going to get one or two, maybe three [starts]," Ray said. "I knew it was until those guys get ready and just kind of fill the gap. Obviously, the object coming up here was to not slow the momentum down that they had going up here, and give them a chance to win."
In three outings, Ray (1-1) has shown he can do that for now.
His showing, along with some of the other inexperienced arms that have helped out for Toronto this season, has been a pleasant surprise for the first-place ballclub. The four rookies that the Jays have used as starters this season -- Ray, Cecil, Romero and Scott Richmond -- have combined to go 9-3 with a 3.12 ERA in 16 games, averaging more than six innings per outing.
"You've seen it over the last couple years," Blue Jays center fielder Vernon Wells said. "When guys have gotten hurt in our rotation, young guys have come up and been successful. It's, first off, them coming up and doing a great job and throwing strikes.
"But two, you can see the consistency there when it comes to [pitching coach] Brad Arnsberg and [bullpen coach] Bruce Walton and the game plans that they put together each and every day."
Against the White Sox (15-20), who have lost 10 of their past 13 games, Ray allowed just one hit through the first five innings, and the lone run allowed by the righty was unearned. In the first, Ray issued a leadoff walk to Scott Podsednik, who later stole third base and scored on an errant throw by catcher Raul Chavez to put the Jays behind, 1-0.
After the first inning, only one baserunner advanced beyond first base against Ray, who scattered three hits in the win. The rookie right-hander only had three strikeouts, but he used an improved cutter and a sharp sinker to keep the White Sox's hitters off balance all afternoon.
"He threw three pitches today, it seemed like," Sox third baseman Josh Fields said. "All three of them he was throwing for strikes and throwing well. When you get up there and you're looking for a certain pitch and he drops another one on you for a strike, it's kind of a tough day."
As well as Ray was pitching, though, Chicago's one-run lead held up through seven innings.
Over that span, White Sox starter Bartolo Colon and two relievers blanked the Jays' lineup, which stranded eight runners along the way and made a pair of mistakes on the basepaths. In the second inning, Jose Bautista was thrown out trying to stretch a single into a double. Then, Marco Scutaro was nabbed trying to turn a double into a triple in the third.
"I don't ever fault guys for hustling, and both plays were pretty close," Gaston said. "They weren't like four or five steps out, so you can live with that, especially when you win."
In the eighth, Wells jump-started Toronto's comeback with a single to center field off reliever Scott Linebrink. With Adam Lind at the plate, Wells swiped second for his second stolen base of the game.
"When runs are hard to come by, you have to take advantage of every opportunity," Wells said. "You get to second base and give guys a chance to drive you in from second. Lindy, he's done it all year."
Lind came through again, ripping the 10th pitch he received from Linebrink (1-2) into right field for a game-tying double. After Lind moved to third base on a wild pitch, Bautista followed with an RBI single to left field, putting the Blue Jays ahead, 2-1. In the ninth, closer Scott Downs relieved Ray and held the Sox in check for the save.
The final out of the game came on a ground ball off the bat of White Sox pinch-hitter Wilson Betemit. Jays first baseman Lyle Overbay gloved the grounder and flipped it to Downs, who stepped on first to finish the ninth. Later, Downs gave the ball to Ray.
Ray plans on sending the memento back home to Texas, where his parents were monitoring his performance on their computer. It was an outing worthy of a handshake.
"It was really special," Gaston said. "This kid, he pitched one heck of a game out there."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.