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Rasmus to the rescue as Blue Jays sweep Rays

Toronto Blue Jays center fielder Colby Rasmus is congratulated by teammates in the dugout after he hit the game winning solo home run during the tenth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field.

Kim Klement/USA Today Sports

The struggling centre fielder entered the game as a pinch hitter to hit the decisive home run in the 10th inning.

The veteran reliever who is questioning his future closing role with the team came on to record the confidence-boosting save.

And the starting pitcher threw a gem of a game, echoing performances that were almost a given over the course of the first couple months of the regular season.

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No wonder Toronto manager John Gibbons was all grins and sipping on a favoured beverage in his office after the Blue Jays disposed of the Tampa Bay Rays 1-0 here on Thursday night to complete a three-game sweep of the Rays at rickety Tropicana Field.

"Worked out just right," said Gibbons, obviously savouring the moment.

Although the win was Toronto's fifth in a row and improved its record to 72-67 as they head into Boston to begin another three-game series that begins Friday night at Fenway Park, the slogging remains slow to pick up ground in in the race for the American League wild-card berth.

But there is at least a smidgen of hope starting to open up as with the win Toronto moved ahead of the Cleveland Indians in the race for the second wild-card spot in the A.L.

But the Blue Jays still remain 4.5 games back of the Detroit Tigers, who hold down that coveted second playoff spot, and they also need to surpass the New York Yankees and Seattle Mariners to get there with just 23 games left to play.

Their performance against the Rays will no doubt provide them with plenty of bravado as the Jays had recorded just one prior series sweep at Tropicana, but it was just a two-game affair back in 1998.

Veteran lefty starter Mark Buehrle, who came into the game needing to accumulate 33 more innings over his final five starts of the year to get to 200-innings pitched for an impressive 14th straight season, worked like a man on a mission.

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Buehrle blanked the Rays over eight innings of work where Tampa could only muster five hits off the 35-year-old.

Trouble was, Tampa starter Jake Odorizzi almost matched Buehrle pitch-for-pitch, keeping Toronto off the scoreboard through 7.1 innings of work, and the game would be decided by the bullpens.

For Buehrle, the performance was reminiscent of his work earlier in the season when everything fell his way and his record was 10-1 by June 1st. Since then, heading into Thursday's game, Buehrle had lost eight of his last nine decisions spanning 15 starts.

Buehrle said he has felt good his last half dozen starts and his goal to reach the 200-innings pitched plateau is also on his mind and he felt he could have gone out for the ninth inning if necessary.

"We're here to win games, we're not looking at personal stats right now," he said. "If we were out of it, then we could look at that. But our main goal right now is to win games and whatever I need to do, whether it's five or six innings, eight innings, I'm going out there and trying to go deep into the game."

With Buehrle out, Tampa almost broke through in the bottom of the ninth with Brett Cecil on the mound for Toronto, loading the bases with one out.

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But Cecil fought back, utilizing a mesmerizing curveball to help strikeout Logan Forsythe and then Sean Rodriguez to end that threat.

"Curveball's real good right now," Cecil said. "I think if you asked anybody in baseball they'd tell you it's my go-to pitch. And it is."

In the top of the 10th, Gibbons sent Colby Rasmus in to pinch hit against new Tampa reliever Steve Geltz and he jolted a pitch over the right field wall for a solo home run shot that would stand up as the winner.

It was a sweet moment for Rasmus, who learned earlier in the week that his starting role in centre field would be severely curtailed as the season winds down as the team auditions younger players in his stead.

"It feels good but I wasn't going up there with the intent to try to show anything that I haven't shown before," Rasmus said. "I just wanted to go up there and put a good at-bat on him and try to help my team."

After that, Gibbons sent in Casey Janssen, whose role as the team's closer has been usurped of late by rookie Aaron Sanchez, came in to finish the Rays off in the bottom of the inning for his 21st save to seal Toronto's win.

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