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05/07/08 11:45 PM ET

Marcum throws gem in win over Rays

Right-hander allows four hits in fourth victory of season

TORONTO -- Evan Longoria was locked in on an eighth-inning offering from Blue Jays pitcher Shaun Marcum, but the Rays third baseman was going to be hard-pressed to produce a swing that could catch up with this particular pitch.

As the baseball dove drastically down through the strike zone, Longoria made a feeble attempt to make contact. The force of Longoria's misplaced swing spun him around in the batter's box and the rookie struggled to control his bat, losing his grip and dropping the lumber to the dirt around home plate.

Longoria retreated to the visitors' dugout at Rogers Centre, following a strikeout that served as a fitting summation of a dazzling evening for Marcum. The Toronto starter maintained his early-season dominance, leading the Blue Jays to a 6-2 victory -- the club's sixth win in their past seven games.

Mixed within Marcum's 8 2/3 innings were nine strikeouts, upping his team-leading total to 44 -- a figure that currently is tied for the second-most among American League starters. Marcum was asked if he considered himself to be a strikeout pitcher, and that produced a smile and a chuckle from the 26-year-old right-hander.

"Absolutely not," he said with a laugh. "I don't know what's going on. I have no idea. It's just locating pitches or just keeping them off balance and keeping them guessing."

Marcum (4-2) has certainly been sharp in that regard in the season's early goings for the Blue Jays (17-18). The pitcher doesn't boast an overpowering fastball, but his style has helped him fashion a tidy 2.59 ERA through seven outings this year. On Wednesday, Marcum limited the Rays to one hit through the first eight innings.

Each of Marcum's nine strikeouts -- tied for his highest total this season -- came within those first eight frames. During one stretch between the first and second innings, Marcum fanned four Tampa Bay hitters in a row. Over his past two starts, Marcum has compiled 18 strikeouts across a span of 15 1/3 innings.

"He was dominating tonight," Jays manager John Gibbons said. "But, you know what? I can't really say that it surprises me anymore. He goes out there and gives you some kind of effort every night."

"He can throw anything at any time," he added later. "He keeps guys off balance and he can pick the plate apart. His changeup is a strikeout pitch for him, too. A lot of guys have won in this game without overpowering stuff."

Since entering Toronto's rotation last May, all Marcum has done is post a 15-6 record with 11 starts that contained six shutout innings to begin the outing. Against the Rays, Marcum relied less on his curveball and slider, turning more often to his fastball, cutter and changeup to hold the Rays (17-16) in check until the ninth inning.

By that time, Toronto had established a 6-0 lead -- powered by a five-run outburst against the Rays' bullpen in the eighth inning. That offensive eruption was highlighted by a two-run homer off the bat of Jays third baseman Scott Rolen, whose blast helped Toronto overcome a strong showing by Tampa Bay's Matt Garza.

Garza (1-1) matched zeros with Marcum for six innings before finally flinching. With one out in the seventh, the Jays put runners on first and second base for Marco Scutaro, who drilled an offering from Garza into left field to score Aaron Hill, putting Toronto ahead, 1-0.

"I was very excited," said Marcum, referring to Scutaro's hit. "It kind of gets a little frustrating going out there in the sixth and seventh inning and it's still 0-0. It's nice to get a little breathing room."

Following Garza's exit, Toronto poured on five more runs in the eighth, convincing Gibbons to let Marcum attempt a complete game. The pitcher came within one out of doing just that, but Tampa Bay collected three straight hits in the ninth inning to plate a pair of runs.

After the Rays received a two-run double from B.J. Upton in the ninth, narrowing Toronto's lead to 6-2, Gibbons turned to reliever Scott Downs. The left-hander promptly struck out Tampa Bay's Carlos Pena to end the game -- an outing Marcum wished he could've completed.

"I think that's the first time Gibby's sent me out for the ninth," Marcum said. "I was excited to go back out there and the fans were behind me. I just wish we could've got it done for them. But, Downsy came in and did what he's supposed to do."

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.