ST. PETERSBURG – David Price wore a Vanderbilt football jersey and a helmet to his bullpen session Wednesday. He had his cleats taped liked the football players do on game day, each with a happy birthday message to his mom.
Kelly Johnson tried on his Texas Longhorns jersey. Sean Rodriguez had five Miami Hurricanes jerseys in his locker.
Yeah, the three-game losing streak was really eating at the Rays on Wednesday afternoon.
Manager Joe Maddon said he liked the business-like approach his team displayed before playing the Angels. Of course, there was the matter of what college football jerseys the players will wear tonight during their charter flight to Oakland.
But first things first, the Angels.
The Rays took care of them with a business-like 4-1 victory in front of 13,535 fans at Tropicana Field.
“They did not like what happened (Tuesday) night, and they did something about it,” Maddon said.
Chris Archer pitched seven solid innings. Joel Peralta and Fernando Rodney retired the final six batters.
The Rays offense managed one big inning, and for the first time in four days, everything worked.
The win enabled the Rays to maintain their half-game lead over the A's in the American League wild-card standings and keep pace with the Red Sox in the AL East. The Rays remain 2½ games behind the first-place Red Sox.
The sting of Tuesday's meltdown disappeared when the package from Vanderbilt arrived in the afternoon for Price and the 2012 American League Cy Young Award winner pranced around the clubhouse like a wide receiver.
Maddon said the 6-5 loss Tuesday in a game the Rays led 5-1 after six innings took “31 minutes” to put aside, one minute more than his mandated 30-minute mourning for a loss.
He said Tuesday the best way to erase the feeling was to win the following day. The best way to win was to pitch well, and Archer did.
The rookie allowed a run on five hits in seven innings. He struck out five and did not walk a batter.
Archer ran into trouble in one inning — the seventh. Mike Trout and Josh Hamilton led off with singles, and James Loney couldn't handle a grounder by Mark Trumbo. Instead of a possible double play, Loney could only get the out at first.
Pitching with two runners in scoring position and one out, Archer did what he needed to do — limit the damage. He traded a run for an out on a sacrifice fly then got a grounder to shortstop to end the inning.
“Good stuff,” Maddon said. “Fastball command was really good. Threw a lot of strikes with his fastball. Slider was outstanding once again. I think the big difference when he pitches like that is he knows where his fastball is going. It was outstanding.”
A better job by the bullpen would have resulted in a win Tuesday. Jake McGee and Rodney struggled, with Rodney blowing his eighth save of the year.
But trusted with a lead again Wednesday, the bullpen responded. Peralta had another 1-2-3 inning, and Rodney rebounded.
On Tuesday, Rodney walked the first batter he faced. On Wednesday, he fell behind 2-0 to Erick Aybar, the first batter he faced. This time he got Aybar to ground out to shortstop.
Rodney then struck out Trout and Hamilton for this 31st save of the season.
Maddon said the win wasn't any more satisfying because the Rays lost a trio of tough games entering the night. He said the game wasn't must-win other than the fact the Rays want to win every game.
“They all have equal weight,” he said. “You just go out there and play. I'm just pleased at the fact we lost such a difficult game (Tuesday) and showed up and played.”