Tampa Bay Rays
Rays overcome 'depressing' crowd, beat Jays
ST. PETERSBURG - In the middle of a pennant race that's turning white-hot, only 11,968 fans showed up at Tropicana Field on Monday night. It was the third-smallest home crowd of the season, but the Rays didn't let the "really depressing" atmosphere, as All-Star left fielder Carl Crawford called it, get to them. Nor did they allow themselves a letdown after taking two of three from the contending Red Sox over the weekend. Carlos Pena hit a three-run home run and drove in four runs, rookie Wade Davis won his sixth consecutive decision, and the Rays, winning their 81st game, beat the Blue Jays 6-2.Tampa Bay stayed tied for first place in the American League East with the Yankees for an eighth consecutive day, but Monday's crowd suggested a meaningless late-season game. Crawford admitted it was discouraging. "Yeah, it was a little disappointing," he said. "It was a big letdown. We came out all fired up, and for you to see that, it's really depressing. But we just have to find ways to get ourselves going and just keep playing the way we play." The Rays drew a sellout of 36,793 for Saturday's middle game of the three-game series with the Red Sox, but the sandwich games drew 29,461 and 23,438, respectively. Monday's game, against a division foe that has a winning record and leads the majors in home runs, drew the smallest crowd since 10,825 and 10,691 came out for games against Oakland on April 27 and 28. "I think we're learning to be self-motivated," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "There's nothing we can do about that (attendance) anymore. I mean, honestly, you look at whether it's winning or losing or whatever, we can't be concerned about that. "Of course, it's disappointing, but we do appreciate the group that did come out. It's too bad, because you're missing really good baseball." Pena drove in a run in the Rays' two-run first inning with a line-drive sacrifice fly to left-center and belted a three-run homer to left in the third off lefty Brett Cecil (11-7), whom Tampa Bay beat for the first time in four tries this year. The 2008 Gold Glove first baseman also made a stellar save on a throw by third baseman Evan Longoria on a grounder by Jose Bautista in the fourth, and he leaped to snare a hard line drive by Fred Lewis in the sixth. Pena made the latter play as part of Lewis' broken bat spiraled down the first base line. "When he's at first base, he makes everybody else around him better," Maddon said of Pena. "He's playing at a very high level. He's got a good look right now. He's playing with a lot of confidence." Davis (11-9), making his second start since a stint on the disabled list with a strained right shoulder, was in command from the outset. In 72/3 innings, he allowed one run in the third after John McDonald opened with a triple and one in the fifth on a solo home run by Aaron Hill. "I kept the ball down and executed some pitches," said Davis, whose winning streak is the longest ever by a Rays rookie and the longest by an AL rookie this season. Davis left with two on and two out in the eighth. Chad Qualls came on and got a huge out, striking out Bautista, the major-league home run leader with 42. The Rays picked up an insurance run in the eighth after third baseman McDonald misplayed Jason Bartlett's grounder and threw wild to first for two errors. Bartlett scored on a sac fly by Longoria.
Reporter Tony Fabrizio can be reached at (813) 259-7994.