MIAMI - One of the first things Matt Joyce, Ben Zobrist and a lot of the other Tampa Bay Rays hitters noticed upon their arrival here this weekend was just how expansive the outfield is at Marlins Park.
Designed to be a pitcher's paradise, the distance from home plate to the park's 12-foot outfield wall is 344 feet down the left-field line, 422 feet to deepest center and 392 feet to the power alley in right center.
The dimensions have left some visitors complaining the park is too big, but the Rays made it look rather small, hitting five home runs during a three-game sweep of the Marlins, including two Sunday during their series-capping 4-2 win.
"Zobrist made it look small (with his two homers on Saturday) and Matt made it look really small (with his team-leading 11th homer Sunday), but I'm not sure I made it look that small," said Elliot Johnson, who finished the five-homer barrage with a two-run shot, his fourth of the year, to right during a pivotal three-run fourth. "Mine just barely made it, but it still counts as a homer, so I'm not complaining."
Neither was Rays starter James Shields. Though Shields (7-4) continued to display a unique mastery of the Marlins, beating them for the third time in three starts, he wound up needing the support.
Shields, who had allowed just one earned run during his two previous complete-game victories over Miami, sailed through the Marlins for six innings but began to struggle in the seventh.
He gave up a pair of doubles, the second of which produced the Marlins' first run, and a walk before turning the game over to the bullpen, which also gave up a run before finishing off Miami in the ninth.
"I walked three hitters today and that's one of the things I'm not too pleased about, but overall it was a good start," Shields said. "Better than the last few, that's for sure."
Shields broke a personal three-game losing streak that included a rough outing Tuesday in New York, where he gave up seven hits and seven runs in a 7-0 loss to the Yankees.
The Rays lost the next night out to New York as well, but they've won four in a row since to reclaim and maintain their hold on first place in American League East, and it's largely been their hitters who have sparked the turnaround.
The Rays had 10 or more hits in the three games prior to Sunday, and they broke out hot against Marlins starter Anibal Sanchez (3-5) when B.J. Upton ripped a first-inning double off the left-field scoreboard to score Carlos Peña, who walked.
Two innings later, Joyce led off by driving a Sanchez offering over the little garden in right-center field, and Johnson followed three batters later by drilling his homer to left.
"They're swinging the bats well," Rays manager Joe Maddon said of his team, which hit .167 as a group during the 10 games prior to the start of this four-game winning streak. "Elliot really hit that ball.
"And Matt's, that was far. That was like old Yankee Stadium far. That's what I saw with that. It was just properly struck off the bat. It was definitely going to be a homer the moment he hit it. It was about as good as you can hit it."
Marlins Park has a tendency to swallow up a lot of hitters' best hits, but Joyce said he realized the park does have some forgiving areas for power hitters.
"It's a big park, but it seemed like the ball carried pretty well to right field," Joyce said. "Obviously Zobrist hit two there (Saturday) and we had two more go there today."
The five homers helped the Rays put together their first four-game road winning streak of the year. Now they're hoping to carry the momentum over into a series against the Mets at the Trop, where they've won just six of their past 16.
"(Saturday's win) was a huge game for us and we kind of carried it over into today," Joyce said. "Hopefully we keep it going now. That's the biggest thing, just try to be consistent."
Tampa Bay Rays