ST. PETERSBURG - It is kind of early in the year to call one win a big win, but given the events of the past few nights, given the way the Tampa Bay Rays have kicked away winnable games, Wednesday’s victory was, well, kind of big.
The Rays didn’t blow a lead.
The offense tacked on runs.
The result was a 10-4 victory in front of 11,075 at Tropicana Field that snapped a two-game losing streak.
It was a frustrating two-game losing streak at that, because a better job by the pitching staff in holding a seven-run lead Monday and a three-run lead Tuesday and the Rays would be working on a four-game winning streak.
“They’re all big wins,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “It’s been kind of difficult lately. The two losses in Kansas City were not fun. Even the loss in Denver was not fun. And the two losses here, none of them have been fun.
“But I believe we came to play every day after those tough losses. I don’t think we mailed anything in after the tough losses, and that’s what I appreciate about this group. We might lose the next night, but nothing was mailed in. Everyone showed up.”
It was the 600th career win for Maddon as manager of the Rays, yet Maddon wasn’t around for the end. He was tossed for the second straight game for arguing with the home plate umpire.
This time the dispute was whether a ball struck the foot of Blue Jays shortstop Maicer Izturis during the sixth inning.
Home plate ump Scott Barry said it did. Maddon said it didn’t.
Maddon lost the argument.
“You can only take so much,” Maddon said. “I think we’ve been very cooperative and understanding. We’ve been good boys. We’ve been playing really well in the sandbox. I think we’ve been playing really well in the sandbox. I think we’ve been the poster boy for instant replay in the first month of the season. So you can only take so much with all of that.”
The Rays Jamey Wright was in the game at that point, having replaced starter Matt Moore to start that inning. With the bullpen basically spent from all the innings Monday and Tuesday, Maddon said he was counting pitches, hoping to get two, possibly three innings out of Wright.
“At some point when your group, who works very hard and is trying to get to the World Series constantly gets dinged, at some point I’m the guy who has to say something,” Maddon said. “I don’t want the players going out there having to say something, that’s inappropriate. I’m the one who’s supposed to say something. You get to that moment, that point where you just can’t permit it anymore. I think we’ve been tolerant. I think we’ve handled this very well. But there’s a line to be drawn.”
As it turned out, Wright pitched into the seventh inning and Cesar Ramos took it from there.
“It was a very important win for us,” Kelly Johnson said. “It’s been a tough last few days. Obviously we have a chance now to go and get a split.”
Johnson helped power an offense that put up 13 hits and scored at least seven runs for the sixth times in the Rays last 10 games.
Johnson hit a two-run homer in the sixth inning to help put the game out of reached. He also walked and scored in the first inning and doubled and scored in the second inning.
Evan Longoria’s two-run homer in the fourth put the Rays ahead 6-2.
James Loney continued to hit. He was 2-for-5 with a double and two RBI. Now with enough at-bats to qualify among the league-leaders, Loney’s .385 batting average is tops in the American League.
Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera, who began the day leading the AL with a .385 average, is now second at .381.
The last Ray to lead the league in batting this late in the season was Matt Joyce, whose .364 average on June 2, 2011 was tops in the major leagues.
The Rays 1-through-5 hitters – Desmond Jennings, Johnson, Ben Zobrist, Longoria and Loney – combined to go 10-for-19 with five walks, three doubles, two home runs and eight RBI.
They overcame a 2-0 deficit in the first inning, the result of a two-run homer by Jays first baseman Edwin Encarnacion.
They overcame that deficit when the first five batters all reached base with the runs coming on bases-loaded singles by Longoria, Loney and Luke Scott.
Moore, who struggled with his command (only 56 of his 104 pitches were strikes), went five innings to improve to 6-0. He joined Boston’s Clay Buchholz and Washington’s Jordan Zimmerman as the major leagues only six-game winners.
What’s more, the Rays are 7-0 in Moore’s seven starts.
“The record looks pretty, but if you go back and look at this game, it just wasn’t pretty. There was maybe two back-to-back hitters that I thought I put some nice sequences together, but I just felt like from hitter-to-hitter it was changing. I was fighting a lot of different things, mostly myself.”
This time the bullpen didn’t let the lead and the game slip away.
Wright went 1 1/3 innings. He gave up a pair of runs in the seventh inning, though sloppy defense played a role.
Ramos finished the game with 2 1/3 scoreless innings.
“The last couple of nights have been difficult,” Maddon said. “I’m really proud of our guys, the way we continue to bounce back. We were not going to be denied.”