ST. PETERSBURG -- A 7-0 lead wasn't good enough for the Rays on Monday night, and there were plenty of reasons why, as the Blue Jays came from behind to take an 8-7 win at Tropicana Field.
J.P. Arencibia's two-run homer in the ninth proved to be the winning blow for what felt like an inevitable outcome based on the way the Blue Jays never quit chipping away at the Rays' large cushion.
By losing, the Rays fell to 14-17 on the season and for the 12th time in 17 losses, the Rays gave up the lead.
"It's got to stop," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "We're better than that -- much better than that. I don't have any specific answers right now."
Despite having an early 7-0 lead, Rays starter Jeremy Hellickson managed to pitch just five innings. The residual effect of that effort would prove costly, leading to Fernando Rodney entering the game earlier than usual.
"Helly needed to pitch more than five innings with a 7-0 lead," Maddon said. "That was a big part of it. Our bullpen was a little bit short tonight. We were down two guys, we tried to piece it together the best we could.
"A 7-0 lead like that right there, you'd like to believe he's going to go at least six, possibly seven innings. Had he at least gone six, the bullpen could have been a little spiffier, how we doled out the work."
The Rays scored seven runs in the third, fueled primarily by Evan Longoria's third career grand slam and a two-run shot by resurgent Luke Scott. Unfortunately for the Rays, the Blue Jays didn't sack the bats at the large deficit.
Hellickson allowed three in the fourth, including Colby Rasmus' two-run homer. The Rays right-hander used his 39th pitch of the inning to catch Jose Bautista looking at strike three with two aboard to end the threat. He then retired the side in order in the fifth before exiting the game, which signaled for the parade of relievers to begin.
"I thought I was doing a good job of getting ahead of guys," Hellickson said. "I just couldn't put away guys with two strikes. … It's pretty frustrating."
Jake McGee, Kyle Farnsworth, Joel Peralta, Rodney and Jamey Wright were needed to finish the game for the Rays, but by the time Wright came in, the outcome had pretty much been decided.
McGee allowed a two-run homer to pinch-hitter Mark DeRosa in the sixth that cut the lead to 7-5, but the biggest play in the Blue Jays' comeback came in the eighth.
Rodney took over for Peralta with one out in the eighth and runners at first and second. The Rays' closer immediately got Melky Cabrera to hit into what appeared to be a textbook double play. Instead, shortstop Yunel Escobar booted the gift ground ball to load the bases. Bautista's sacrifice fly then cut the lead to 7-6.
"The double play is kind of a routine play, and he just misplayed that ball," said Maddon, who did not alibi for Escobar, who had missed the previous two games after getting hit by a pitch on his left hand Saturday night in Colorado. "The big play was not turning the double play. Had we been able to do that, it would have really cut down on the number of pitches [for Rodney]. He was extended beyond his normal moments right there, and that's pretty much why that happened, but we had no other options tonight."
Rodney returned to pitch the ninth and walked leadoff batter Adam Lind. Pinch-runner Emilio Bonifacio stole second base and moved to third on the play thanks to catcher Jose Molina's throwing error.
Despite being extended, Rodney recovered to strike out Rasmus for the first out before retiring Maicer Izturis on a groundout to first with the infield drawn in for the second out. One out away from victory, Arencibia spoiled the party by hitting a 2-2 pitch into the left-field stands for a two-run homer that ultimately decided the game.
"It's just one pitch," Rodney said. "I think the one pitch, I missed it up a little bit high in the strike zone. He made good contact with the ball and that's why they hit a home run. But there's nothing I can do."
Many picked Toronto as the team to beat in the American League East this season only to see the Blue Jays stumble out of the gates into last place. Monday night's win brought some relief to the Toronto side.
Arencibia called the win "huge" while saluting the overall effort of his team.
"You got to tip your hat to the effort of our guys tonight," Arencibia said. "We go down 7-0, especially the way it's been, to answer right away, to answer back and shut them down after that and get the bats going. I think it's real positive."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.