ST. PETERSBURG - Tampa Bay Rays reliever Burke Badenhop was warming up in the bullpen during the first inning with Matt Moore on the mound. That tells you the importance of Saturday night’s game against the visiting Toronto Blue Jays.
With a chance to pick up another game in the wild card standings, manager Joe Maddon was not going to risk losing a game while Moore tried to figure out what was going wrong.
“He just didn’t look comfortable,” Maddon said.
So Maddon went to his bullpen in the third inning and the parade of relievers was exceeded only by the parade of Rays around the bases as they rolled to an 11-5 victory in front of 15,699 at Tropicana Field.
With Oakland’s loss earlier in the day to the New York Yankees, the Rays inched to within 3 1/2 games of the slumping A’s, who currently hold the second of two American League wild card spots with 10 games to play.
“We have to have another one-game winning streak (today),” Maddon said.
The Rays have won four straight, scoring 43 runs during the streak – the most in any four-game span in team history. The scored at least 11 runs for the third time in the four games.
“Sometimes you just get into a rhythm as an offense,” Evan Longoria said. "It seems like we’ve been having more fun, that’s probably the biggest thing. You kind of get that feeling, even when we get down in a game that it’s not going to matter. We’ve had that before, and a lot of times when you’ve gone on runs and made pushes like this, it’s really all about the belief that you can score runs.
"We did not have that for a while. It seems like it’s back now.”
The offense appears to be making up for a summer worth of slumber, getting 15 hits Saturday, including home runs from Longoria, Desmond Jennings, Jose Molina and B.J. Upton.
Longoria’s homer, a three-run blast that hit a light hanging from the C-ring catwalk above left field, gave the Rays a 4-2 lead in the second inning.
“It’s been a while since I hit a ball like that to the pull side,” Longoria said. “My swing is at its best when I’m hitting balls to the right side, but when they do make mistakes, I’m usually able to get my hands inside of them. That was a good sign.”
The Rays made it 5-2 when Jennings homered in the fourth.
Moore, meanwhile, struggled again, lasting just 2 3/2 innings.
“He just didn’t have it,” Maddon said. “Earlier in the season you can be a little more patient but you can’t be as patient right now. I didn’t see him fixing himself. The bullpen was fresh, there were a lot of innings in the bullpen.”
It was the third straight start in which Moore worked a career low for innings pitched. It was four innings Sept. 11 in a loss at Baltimore and three innings Sept. 16 in a loss at New York.
Neither Moore nor Maddon said fatigue from pitching 172 innings this season, his full year in the big leagues, is a factor.
“I don’t think so,” Maddon said. “I’m not seeing that. He has not reflected that. He has not said that. I don’t think so. That would not be my guess. I think right now he’s a little off kilter with his delivery.
"More recently the thing with the patting the glove (tipping off his fastball), I don’t know how much that’s playing into it.”
Said Moore about being fatigued: “I really don’t (think so). My body, I couldn’t complain about how I’m feeling right now. That’s definitely not the issue.”
Badenhop was warming up behind Moore in each of the first three innings before entering the game in third with two on and two out. Badenhop got out of the jam, pitched the fourth inning and earned his third win of the year.
Moore, who was pulled after throwing 50 pitches, said he was somewhat surprised Maddon used such a quick hook.
“Yeah, definitely,” he said. “You look at my pitch count, the situation of the game and where we are in the standings is pretty tight. It goes without saying we’re going to make some moves earlier in the game when I don’t have it going early.”
Maddon said he is not concerned with Moore and that he expects him to make his next start in Chicago against the White Sox later this week. Maddon, though, said he wants to have a talk with Moore to determine what’s going wrong.
The Rays trailed 1-0 three batters into the first inning and 2-0 before Moore recorded the third out. But as Longoria mentioned, being down two runs is nothing to this suddenly white hot offense.
That the Jays closed to within 5-4 in the fifth inning on a two-run Adam Lind triple that scooted under the glove of a sliding Jennings mattered little.
The Rays put the game out of reach with a six runs in the bottom of the inning.
Jeff Keppinger started things with a double, then scored on a one-out double by Ben Francisco. Ryan Roberts singled home Francisco, then Molina, making a season-high fourth straight start, crushed his eight home run of the season, a two-run shot into the left field stands for a 9-4 lead.
After a single by Jennings, Upton hit his 25th home run of the season to make it 11-4.
“It seems like we feel good at the plate and understand the importance of each at-bat for everyone,” Molina said. “We’re just trying to have the best at-bats we can out there and give us a chance to win games.”
The Rays have made up 2 1/2 games in the standings during this four-game winning streak. The A’s are 1-4 on a road trip that also includes four games at Texas beginning Monday.
“If we keep the blinders on and go with the one day at a time approach,” Maddon said before the game, “before you know it it’s going to be real interesting around here.”
Tampa Bay Rays
Moore struggles, but hot bats carry Tampa Bay Rays again