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Donaldson and Smoak solve Rays’ Archer, lead Blue Jays to a win

Blue Jays third baseman Josh Donaldson celebrates in the dugout after hitting a solo home run against the Tampa Bay Rays on Aug. 16, 2017.

Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press

Toronto manager John Gibbons was musing before the game about Chris Archer and how the fine Tampa Bay Rays pitcher had been tough on the Blue Jays over the years.

"What's he done against us?" Gibbons wondered aloud, which caused one of the club's media-relations representatives to start tapping away on his smartphone within the manager's office, usually verboten for those not holding a Blue Jays employment card.

Within seconds Gibbons had his answer: Archer had compiled a 6-4 win-loss record against Toronto, with a 3.13 earned-run average in 22 career starts.

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"Thought it would have been better than that," was Gibbons's response. Two reasons it did not get better at Rogers Centre on Thursday: Josh Donaldson and Justin Smoak.

Donaldson exorcised his personal hitting demons against Archer with two solo home runs while Smoak blazed the winner, a majestic two-run blast in the eighth inning that provided the Blue Jays with a tense 5-3 victory.

The Rays, who outhit the Blue Jays 11-6, must have felt snake-bit. They stranded 14 runners after putting men on base in every inning.

The Blue Jays, who have won their third successive series, are starting to believe that their season is not quite as cooked as once thought.

"It's nice," Donaldson said of the positive energy that has infused the team the past couple of weeks. "It's a breath of fresh air to be able to come to the yard and expecting to win and getting those breaks that are going our way and sometimes making our own breaks.

"We feel okay where we're at right now but we still have a lot of room to climb, a few teams ahead of us. Hopefully it comes down to the end of the season and we continue to play well."

Donaldson, who was a paltry 4-for-29 (.138) in his career against Archer, with 11 strikeouts in 29 at-bats, broke out of those doldrums with solo home runs in the first and fifth innings to help provide Toronto a 3-1 lead.

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The dangerous third baseman is heating up at just the right time, with six homers in his past five games. He has 20 on the year.

Over all, Archer pitched well over seven innings. He allowed three runs and five hits with 10 strikeouts and left with a no-decision.

The Rays came at Toronto in waves and were finally rewarded in the eighth inning when Evan Longoria hit a sharp fly ball off reliever Dominic Leone.

That hit just eluded the grasp of Ezequiel Carrera, who started in centre field in place of Kevin Pillar.The ball careered off the wall for a double scoring Peter Bourjos from second base, which knotted the score 3-3.

It did not stay that way for long.

Donaldson earned a one-out walk in the bottom of the eighth to set the table for Smoak. The big first baseman continued to build on a sensational season with his 33rd home run, off Tampa Bay reliever Tommy Hunter, to straight-away centre. It was his third run batted in of the game.

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"Obviously winning always helps, but at the same time, I've felt like we should have been doing this all year," Smoak said. "So it's just a matter of ... keep going out and doing it and look up at the end of the year and see where we're at."

Toronto's win, before a sold-out crowd of close to 49,000, earned the Jays a 3-1 series victory over their floundering AL East rivals, who lost for the eighth time in their past 10 games.

Toronto moved into a tie for fourth place in the AL East with the idle Baltimore Orioles, three games back in the wild-card race. And at 59-62, the Blue Jays are just three games below .500, a plateau that would likely have to be reached before the team can seriously start dreaming about an American League wild-card berth. The Blue Jays have not been this close to .500 since June 28, when they were 37-40.

The Blue Jays, who have won 10 of their past 14 games, embark on a six-game trip that begins Friday in Chicago against the Cubs in the opener of a three-game set. After a day off on Monday, Toronto heads to St. Petersburg, Fla., to play the Rays for another three games.

Jose Bautista was not in Toronto's starting lineup for just the second time this season as Gibbons opted to give the 36-year-old right fielder a breather.

Ryan Goins, who hurt his arm and had to come out of Wednesday's game, got the start at shortstop.

Chris Rowley, the West Point Military Academy graduate, made his second start for the Blue Jays, and it was a bit of a high-wire act. But despite walking five batters, the right-hander made the right pitches when he had to and limited the Rays to one run over five-plus innings.

Video: Denis Shapovalov confident ahead of U.S. Open qualifying (The Canadian Press)
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