Rays play spoiler in Halladay’s return

Toronto – In his first game back from the disabled list, Toronto ace Roy Halladay was outpitched by a rookie.

Carl Crawford and Pat Burrell homered, and Jeff Niemann pitched 7 strong innings as the Tampa Bays Rays ruined Halladay’s return with their sixth straight victory, a 4-1 triumph over the Blue Jays on Monday night.

“You’ve got to pitch well to beat Doc,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “That’s what we did and that’s why we came out on top.”

Halladay (10-2) came in having won his past seven decisions, the longest streak in the majors, but lost for the first time since April 21, against Texas. The Blue Jays have lost three straight.

He was starting for the first time since June 12, against Florida, when he left two pitches into the fourth inning with a sore groin that landed him on the disabled list. Halladay allowed two runs and five hits in six innings. The right-hander, who walked two and struck out seven, failed to pitch at least seven innings for only the second time in 15 starts.

“Thank God he’s been out for two weeks because they’d have left him in longer,” Maddon said. “He would have probably finished that thing off.”

Niemann (7-4) won his third straight decision and is unbeaten in five starts in June. He allowed one run and four hits, walked two and struck out one.

“He had a lot of late life on his pitches,” Maddon said. “I saw a lot of late life on the fastball and some really good depth on the curveball.”

Randy Choate got the last out for his fourth save in as many chances.

The long layoff seemed to affect Halladay’s control and limited him to 88 pitches, 57 strikes.

“It wasn’t too bad,” Halladay said. “Location there in the second and third inning was kind of hit and miss a little bit. For the most part I felt pretty good with everything.”

Crawford didn’t notice too much of a drop off with Halladay.

“He didn’t look bad,” Crawford said. “He still looked kind of sharp, he was hitting his spots. He didn’t look terrible. It wasn’t like you saw a big difference. He probably wasn’t at his best but it wasn’t a big difference. …

“We’re on a good roll right now,” Crawford said. “Hopefully we can keep it up. We’re still climbing back up the standings.”