ST. PETERSBURG - It really didn't matter that first place was on the line at Tropicana Field again Sunday afternoon. Rays manager Joe Maddon wasn't taking any chances.
His light-hitting, spotty-fielding, makeshift lineup had blown too many leads and games already, so with a five-run lead with two Orioles on and one out in the ninth, Maddon turned to his closer, Fernando Rodney.
"It was getting kind of hairy there and the wrong part of their order was coming up and I just didn't want to mess with that, so I figured we better do what we did there," Maddon said.
With Rodney's help, the Rays erased yet another Orioles threat and closed out an 8-4 victory to take the three-game series, 2-1, and recapture sole possession of first place in the AL East.
And they did it in what has become typical Rays fashion, with pitching leading the way for a team forced to rely on the smallest of offensive contributions to eke out victories.
On Sunday, the play of the day was not only B.J. Upton's two-out, two-run, game-changing fifth-inning double, but also Elliot Johnson's breakup of a double play two batters earlier.
With Will Rhymes at second and Jose Molina at the plate, Johnson broke up what looked like a sure inning-ending double play with a hard slide into second base, giving the top of the order a chance to cash in on the two walks that started the rally.
"That's a part of the game that really goes unrecognized, but that extends the inning there and permits us to score all those runs," Maddon said. "That's a big play in today's game."
It's the kind of play the Rays have to make, Johnson said, in a pennant race many believe will go down to the end of the season, just as did last year.
"If we are going to make the most of our opportunities we have to do the little things like that," Johnson said. "We have to prolong the inning, save an out. That's just the way we're built."
Maddon agreed. Though pitching and defense are their true hallmarks, the Rays are designed and managed to win by doing the little things, such as breaking up double plays.
"If there's anything we want to be known for it's doing the little things well,” Maddon said. "But we've been inconsistent with that part of our game lately. It's not through a lack of trying or being coached, we just haven't executed there as much as we normally do to this point.
"But it does happen for us (Sunday) where Elliot does do that and all of a sudden the flood gates open on the positive side afterward for us, and so it was a big play."
Upton's double off the glove of diving third baseman Steve Tolleson broke a 2-2 tie and sparked what for the Rays was an offensive onslaught that included a four-hit, four-run sixth inning.
That was enough to make rookie pitcher Matt Moore (2-5) a winner for the first time in six starts. While he did deal with trouble, allowing seven hits and three walks in six innings, that might have worked in his favor.
"It seemed like I was pitching out of the stretch (a lot), which is ideal for me," Moore said. "I got a lot of work in today with runners on base, so it was a good day for me getting some work in situations like that."
It was a good day for Upton, too. He had two hits and two RBI to lead an offense that finally found a way to take advantage of some of the little things it strives to do well.
"That's the way Joe wants us to play the game, and that's what we do," Upton said. "I think we knew that was going to be important at that time, because that's just what good teams do."
Tampa Bay Rays
Rays top Orioles, 8-4, to reclaim first place