ST. PETERSBURG — Jake Odorizzi was masterful. The bullpen was dominant. The offense produced when necessary.
Just like that, the Tampa Bay Rays got back into the swing of winning baseball on Monday night with a 2-1 victory against the Milwaukee Brewers in a tightly wound two-hour, 35-minute affair before 12,660 fans at Tropicana Field.
“Our guys have a very good vibe right now,'' Rays manager Joe Maddon said.
The Rays, who saw their nine-game winning streak halted on Sunday, didn't allow that feeling to linger. Since June 11, when the Rays entered the night at 18 games below .500, they are 28-12, best record in the major leagues during that span, to move within two games of .500.
“Going through that rough moment, nothing wanted to tumble our way,'' Maddon said. “We're forcing our own breaks, too, We're just playing better baseball.
“Regardless of what somebody wants to say, (earlier in the season) you expect something may go awry. Then you get to the point where you think, 'Get close and we'll win it somehow.' ”
Somehow, it happened in the sixth inning, when James Loney's two-out, two-run bloop single into right-center field off Brewers starter Kyle Lohse brought in all the runs the Rays would need to defeat the Brewers, first-place team in the National League's Central Division.
Other than that, the story was pitching.
Odorizzi, who has won four of his past five starts, allowed just a one-out solo home run to eighth-place batter Mark Reynolds in the third inning. Overall, Odorizzi permitted three hits in seven innings with five strikeouts and no walks.
“The way things started out this season, you see two sides of the coin, the really good and the really bad,'' said Odorizzi, who was 4-1 for the month with a 2.90 ERA, eight walks and 32 strikeouts. “You have to approach the game the same way. Some games, you need to battle and compete. Other games, it all goes your way.''
After departing with 91 pitches, Odorizzi left the finishing job to the bullpen. Brad Boxberger pitched a dominant eighth for his 13th consecutive scoreless appearance, striking out the side with 15 pitches. Left-hander Jake McGee struck out the first two ninth-inning batters, then got Ryan Braun with a fly ball to Desmond Jennings on the center-field warning track. McGee is 11-for-11 in save opportunities since June 27.
It added up to a very Rays-like victory — pitching, defense and timely hitting.
Until the sixth inning, the Rays' offense was a study in frustration.
Ben Zobrist, who singled and stole second to begin the fourth, was stranded in scoring position as Lohse mowed down the heart of the lineup.
In the fifth, Logan Forsythe opened with a promising at-bat as his blooper fell into short right field, just inside the foul line. Forsythe wasn't content with a double and stormed around the second-base bag.
But Reynolds, the first baseman, retreated quickly and flipped it into the infield. Brewers shortstop Jean Segura made a brilliant one-handed catch on the bounce, then fired to third, where Aramis Ramirez applied the tag on dead-duck Forsythe.
“Their guy (Segura) made a great play,'' Maddon said. “Sometimes, when you play professional baseball, the other team does something good, too.''
Things finally came together with a two-out rally in the sixth.
Zobrist walked, then sprinted to third when Matt Joyce slithered a slow-developing opposite-field single to left field. Evan Longoria walked to load the bases and Loney followed by punching a soft bloop single between Carlos Gomez in center field and Braun in right.
Zobrist and Joyce both scored.
“He (Loney) always does that type of thing,'' Odorizzi said. “He was the right guy at the right time.''
Meanwhile, the Brewers only got one base-runner in their final 10 at-bats as Odorizzi and Tampa Bay relievers imposed their will.
Just like that, the Rays were winners again — utilizing a style that has become quite familiar.
“I always feel like that with our team,'' Loney said. “Different guys stepping up at different times.''