Tampa Bay Rays
Everyone is well, all is well again with Rays
ST. PETERSBURG - There were nights when they managed two hits and days when the scoreless innings continued into extra innings and the Rays lost because the offense couldn't scrounge up enough runs to send everyone home happy. Frustrating to watch? Sure. Frustrating if you were in the lineup? "Absolutely," B.J. Upton said.Better days were ahead was what Upton said after more than one 2-1 or 3-1 loss that might as well have been 12-1 or 13-1, because with the way the Rays were swinging, the games never really seemed close. And now? The Rays hold serve in the American League wild-card standings and are making a race of things in the AL East. There are several factors for what seems like a dramatic turnaround. The pitching remains outstanding, Evan Longoria is back and the Rays never stopped believing. "Especially after experiencing what we did last year, we just know that there's too much baseball left to be played," Upton said. "At the point in the season, it wasn't necessarily early, but we knew there were 80-something games left. Obviously we would like to have been in a better position, but we knew there was a lot of baseball left." The Rays held hope that Longoria would add a jolt to the offense when he returned, which he did, and they had that safety net of a second wild-card team this season, so they were never really out of it even when it seemed like they were never really in it. The key, Upton said, was not letting the frustration of not playing well win. "You had guys throwing great games and not getting wins for it," Upton said. "That's tough on the hitters, especially when you know the ability is there. I think everybody here at some point has proven themselves, so when you're going out there and you're not playing up to up to how you think you're capable of playing and your teammates are going out there and busting their butts and giving us good starts and the bullpen is coming in and not allowing any runs, it's a little frustrating. I think we did a good job of working through that, winning other ways." Longoria has not exactly hammered the ball since his return — he took a .254 average into Saturday's game — but he's not been awful, either. And his presence helps put everyone else in spots where they are better suited to hit. He also gives opposing pitchers something to think about that wasn't there on those days when Brooks Conrad, Drew Sutton or Hideki Matsui were hitting cleanup. "Joe really didn't have a choice," Upton said of manager Joe Maddon's lineups. "He had to stagger us the best he could. Putting Longo back in the middle of the lineup makes it easier for him to draw a lineup the way he wants it. But no matter what you're seeing (from Longoria), just seeing him in the middle of that lineup is a threat." Maddon said he never sensed panic in the clubhouse while his team struggled to score during the weeks leading up to Longoria's return. That he kept a one-day-at-a-time attitude helped. Maddon didn't have a choice, since he was too occupied trying to find a cleanup hitter and field a lineup that might score some runs. "I was looking forward to everyone getting well and let's see what happens," Maddon said. "Now it's happened." And now there are 35 games left in the regular season, and the Rays are healthy and hitting and no longer frustrated. But, as Upton said, there is still a lot of baseball to be played. "We know it's not going to be easy," Upton said. "But we got some guys back healthy, and I think you're starting to see what all of us expected coming out of spring training. We got a good thing going right now."
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