TORONTO -- Trying to hit a knuckleball is like "trying to eat soup with a fork," goes the old saying. Fortunately for the Rays, some meat could be found in R.A. Dickey's knuckleball soup on Sunday.
Three Tampa Bay home runs and Chris Archer's seven strong innings led the way in a 4-3 win over Toronto at Rogers Centre.
The Rays claimed a three-game sweep over their American League East rivals to kick off the second half. The Rays have now won five in a row and 17 of their last 19 to move to 58-41 as they head to Boston for a crucial four-game series against the first-place Red Sox.
Dickey started for the Blue Jays and the veteran knuckleballer carried into the game a history of success against the Rays, pitching a complete-game two-hitter the last time he faced them on June 26. Nobody on the Rays looked forward to facing the reigning National League Cy Young Award winner, foremost designated hitter Luke Scott, who said of Dickey's knuckleball: "It should be illegal to throw that pitch. There's a reason he won the Cy Young last year. It's a real good pitch."
Evan Longoria hit the Rays' first home run, sending a blast over the right-field wall to lead off the fourth, giving him 20 for the season and tying the score at 1. Scott followed suit in the sixth with a two-run homer off a Dickey knuckleball, giving him nine on the season while extending his career-high hitting streak to 13.
Scott fell behind 0-2 in the count, fighting off Dickey to a 3-2 count when he hit the ninth pitch of the at-bat into the right-field stands. Scott, who received a "try something different" pep talk from manager Joe Maddon prior to the at-bat, said his approach was simple, to "look for a knuckleball."
"That's what he throws," Scott said. "It's his best pitch. He does me a favor if he throws a fastball. But his knuckleball is really tough to square up."
Scott carried an 0-for-12 lifetime mark against Dickey into the at-bat.
"Very, very satisfying," said Scott of ending the drought. "Very grateful. Like I said, he's really, really, tough. Especially for me, personally."
Kelly Johnson went back to back with Scott, hitting his 15th home run of the season to put the Rays up, 4-1.
Tampa Bay's three home runs marked the third time this season Dickey has allowed three in one game.
"It seems to be my bane this year," said Dickey of the home runs. "It's not all the time that you make a mistake with one and it gets hit out of the park. It's just this year that's been the case. You make a mistake and they pop one out. I can take the solo home runs, it's just the multi-run home run that's been really haunting this year. But got to try and take some positives out of today's outing, felt real good, had a good knuckleball, a lot of swings and misses. Just going to try and build off of the momentum the last month or so."
Archer made his first start since throwing a shutout against the Astros a week earlier and the 24-year-old right-hander delivered another strong performance.
After surrendering an RBI double to Josh Thole in the second, Archer posted five zeros before leaving after the seventh with his fifth win of the season under his belt. Critical to his success Sunday was the 4-4-3 double play Jose Bautista hit into in the seventh inning with no outs. Archer called the twin killing "huge."
"Because if Bautista gets on, I'm probably coming out of the game," Archer said. "Great hitter. Great at-bat. He laid off a couple of good pitches down in the dirt. I executed a pitch. Kelly [Johnson] was there, turned it himself, one of the better moments in the game for me."
After Jamey Wright pitched a scoreless eighth, closer Fernando Rodney made it interesting in the ninth.
The Rays' closer walked Thole to start the inning. Longoria then made a diving stop of Brett Lawrie's shot to the left side, but the Rays' third baseman threw wild to second, allowing Thole to reach third. Jose Reyes followed with a double to right-center to drive home two.
After allowing two runs to score and the tying run at second with no outs, Rodney had a conversation with himself.
"I say to myself, 'Calm down,'" Rodney said.
And that's exactly what he did. He struck out Bautista, got Edwin Encarnacion to ground out, walked Adam Lind and got Melky Cabrera to ground out to third with the winning run at second base to escape the jam.
"Baseball's such a unique game," Maddon said. "The turns and twists are incredible. That's the game we had been losing earlier in the year. Now, we're winning that same game."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.