Mark Buehrle set the tone to what has been a dominating start to the season with a near-shutout victory over Tampa Bay back in early April.
The veteran will now shoot for his Major League-leading ninth victory of the campaign against the club as the Toronto Blue Jays play the middle contest of a three-game set on Tuesday night versus the Rays.
Buehrle went 12-10 in 33 starts with the Blue Jays last season, posting a 4.15 earned run average in his first season with the franchise. However, he has appeared more comfortable in 2014, going 8-1 through 10 starts with a 2.16 ERA. He has not allowed more than two runs in nine of those outings and at 35 years of age is the oldest pitcher to win at least eight of his first 10 starts since both Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling went 8-1 in 2002 with the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Buehrle's season began with a victory over Tampa Bay on April 2, when he struck out a season-high 11 batters over 8 2/3 scoreless innings. That improved the hurler to 9-5 with a 4.21 ERA in 23 career meetings with the Rays, 18 of those starts.
The left-handed Buehrle has won four straight decisions since suffering his only loss of the season on April 25 versus Boston. He got revenge for that setback last time out on Thursday, limiting the Red Sox to a pair of runs over seven frames of a 7-2 win.
In the process, he became baseball's first eight-game winner and only St. Louis' Adam Wainwright has been able to join him since.
"It's nice, obviously," Buehrle said. "I try to throw it out the window and get ready for my next start."
Buehrle should have some room to work with tonight if the Blue Jays can continue their hot hitting. Toronto went deep three times in Monday's 10-5 series-opening win, giving the club a homer in nine straight games and an MLB- high 73 home runs on the season.
Edwin Encarnacion hit a solo homer versus the Rays and has hit nine homers over his last 11 games. He has also gone deep 13 times in May, breaking Jose Bautista's 2010 club record for most homers in the month.
Dioner Navarro and Steve Tolleson hit consecutive home runs in the fourth inning in Toronto's seventh straight victory and 10th in its past 11 games. That bailed out starter Drew Hutchison, who got the win despite giving up five runs over five innings.
"Nothing was good, nothing was sharp," Hutchison said.
The Rays had a four-game winning streak snapped despite getting home runs from Desmond Jennings, James Loney and David DeJesus as starter Erik Bedard yielded eight runs and 13 hits in four-plus frames.
"They just put the heavy gloves on and beat us up tonight," Rays manager Joe Maddon said.
That kind of output could be enough to win tonight given Alex Cobb's current 21 2/3 scoreless-innings streak he carries into this start. That run is the third-longest in team history, behind Matt Moore's 22 1/3-inning stretch last season and James Shields' club-record mark of 23 consecutive innings set in 2011.
Cobb has not allowed a run since giving up four over five innings of a loss to Toronto on April 1 in his first start of the season, dropping to 2-1 lifetime with a 2.95 ERA versus Toronto.
The 26-year-old followed up that loss to the Blue Jays with consecutive scoreless outings before a trip to the disabled list caused by a left oblique strain. He returned to action for the first time in nearly six weeks on Thursday and shut out Oakland over 6 2/3 innings, scattering three hits and two walks while fanning six in a no-decision.
"He was outstanding," said Maddon of Cobb, who is 1-1 with a 1.40 ERA on the year. "Having been off as long as he had, you saw the stuff, the strike throwing, the competitive nature."
The Blue Jays have won three of five versus the Rays this season.