- Associated Press - Sunday, September 25, 2011

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — B.J. Upton and Ben Zobrist homered in the first inning to back Wade Davis, and the Tampa Bay Rays beat the Toronto Blue Jays 5-2 Sunday to pull within a half-game of the Boston Red Sox for the American League wild-card lead.

Evan Longoria and Kelly Shoppach also homered for the Rays, who have won 27 games in a row when scoring five runs or more. Davis (11-10) allowed two runs and three hits in eight innings, and Joel Peralta finished for his sixth save in eight chances.

Nine games back of the Red Sox heading into play Sept. 4, Tampa Bay would move into a tie for the wild-card lead if the Yankees completed a sweep of Boston in their day-night doubleheader.

Tampa Bay closes at home against the Yankees, while the Red Sox play at Baltimore.

Boston manager Terry Francona is taking the blame for Boston’s pitiful play.

His players disagree.

One thing everyone can agree on - the Red Sox are running out of time to stop a September slide that could leave them out of the playoffs. That nine-game lead of three weeks ago would be completely gone by the end of Sunday if the Yankees swept.

“When it doesn’t go right, it’s my responsibility,” Francona said after his team lost its fourth straight and seventh in eight games.

Not so, said David Ortiz. “It’s all of us, we’re all to blame,” the team’s DH said. said.

In the National League, meanwhile, things got a little tighter for the Atlanta Braves.

Atlanta lost 3-0 to the Washington Nationals. That enabled the St. Louis Cardinals to move within a game in the race for the NL wild card. The Cards rallied to beat Chicago 3-2 on Rafael Furcal’s eighth-inning home run.

“This was a very brutal loss for us,” Braves rookie first baseman Freddie Freeman said.

Atlanta goes home to face the Phillies in the final three games of the regular season. St. Louis has three games against the Astros in Houston.

St. Louis trailed Atlanta by 10 1/2 games Aug. 26.

“We know what’s at stake. We know what every game means,” Atlanta manager Fredi Gonzalez said before Sunday’s loss. “You’ve got to go out and play the game with some fun. We can’t play with white knuckles on the bat and hold the ball so hard you can’t throw it.”



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