Tampa Bay Rays
Rays make sacrifices to take series over Twins
ST. PETERSBURG - There will not be a T-shirt or figurine promotion to commemorate what the Rays accomplished Sunday, nor will thousands of fans who spent their Sunday elsewhere fib and say they were inside Tropicana Field to witness a bit of team history. In fact, the feat was nearly laughed aside by the Rays themselves when they learned their 6-2 victory against the Minnesota Twins was greatly aided by the sacrifice fly — a team-record four of them, actually. "Really? Wow," said right fielder Ben Zobrist, who owns a piece of the record. So does left fielder Desmond Jennings, who hit the first of the four, and center fielder B.J. Upton, who hit the final two."We’re really excited they changed that rule back in whatever year that was," Zobrist said. That would be November 1953, when the oft-changed sac fly rule was changed to what it is today: When a fly ball scores a runner from third base, the batter is credited with an RBI but not an official at-bat. "I don’t think it gets written about enough," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. Kidding aside, the Rays accomplished one of their goals Sunday, improving their at-bats with runners in scoring position and fewer than two outs. Before Sunday’s game they were batting .233, which is 13th out of 14 American League teams, meaning they’ll take a run any way they can, even if it means trading an out. "They’re runs," Upton said. "The name of the game is to score as many runs as possible. In spring training probably the No.1 thing on the hitters’ list was to do a better job of getting the man in from third base with less than two outs. We worked on it all spring, and I think in those situations we really focus and bear down and try to get the job done." The Rays loaded the bases with no one out in the second inning and scored on sac flies by Jennings and Zobrist. Upton’s sacrifice flies scored Evan Longoria in the fourth inning and Carlos Peña in the eighth. "We’re going to have to do those kinds of things to win games," Longoria said. "We’re not a team that really is going to be able to rely on the three-run home run to win a lot of games, so being able to move guys over from second to third with nobody out and to be able to get that guy home any way you can, we’re going to win a lot of ballgames doing that." Mix in a two-run home run from Jennings and the Rays had enough offense to make starting pitcher Jeff Niemann a winner for the first time this season. The win also clinched the three-game series against the Twins and gave the Rays wins in four of their past five games. They are 5-1 at home to start a season for the first time in club history. And they have a handful of productive outs to thank, the most sac flies in the American League since the Seattle Mariners tied the major-league record with five on April 15, 2008. "From the spectators’ perspective, one of the more boring plays in all of baseball, but from the dugout perspective, very exciting," Maddon said. "I cannot tell you how exciting it is to see that." There is never a shortage of high-fives awaiting the batter who just plated a runner from third with a fly ball to an outfielder. "If you can get the ball out in the outfield with a man on third with less than two (out) that’s a quality AB, and that’s what you want," Zobrist said. "It’s a productive out." What can top that? "A knock," Zobrist said, "would be even better."
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