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This time, Rays' lead big enough
The bats are strong and the pen records two scoreless innings.
By MARC TOPKIN
Published April 12, 2007
Rays centerfielder Rocco Baldelli doubles in the fourth, his first game back in the leadoff spot.
ARLINGTON, Texas - Everything the Devil Rays did to get to the sixth inning with a five-run advantage over the Rangers Wednesday was important. But it was how they held the lead, and held on for a 6-5 victory, that was significantly more meaningful.
Starter James Shields worked his way back from the brink of disaster in the sixth inning and through the pivotal seventh, allowing manager Joe Maddon to use his battered bullpen the way he set it up.
Brian Stokes, the most dependable of the junior members of the bullpen, zipped through a quick eighth. And veteran Al Reyes calmly and, as he said, "in cold blood," provided the finishing touch with a 1-2-3 ninth.
"It's a big win for us," Maddon said. "Formulaic is nice. Anytime you can go 7-1-1 it's nice."
The Rays (3-5) had given away a lead in four of their five losses (as well as both of their wins), and it looked like they might do it again, and extend their losing streak to five, as a 6-1 advantage shrunk quickly in the sixth.
The Rays took the lead with a combination of power, speed and patience. Ben Zobrist and Carlos Pena homered, Akinori Iwamura (who extended his season-starting hitting streak to eight games) and Carl Crawford set up runs with stolen bases. And Ty Wigginton worked a masterful 12-pitch at-bat against Robinson Tejeda to double in another.
But for a few anxious moments in the sixth it looked like it might all go to waste.
First, Shields gave up a leadoff homer to No. 9 hitter Ian Kinsler (his second in two nights), then a single to Kenny Lofton. When Frank Catalanotto hit a routine double-play grounder, Zobrist fielded it cleanly but tossed it away behind second baseman B.J. Upton. Then Shields made it worse, leaving a pitch over the plate that Michael Young crushed for a three-run homer that narrowed the gap to 6-5.
"I was upset at myself, but we had a one-run lead and I wanted to hold them there," Shields said.
He did, retiring Mark Teixeira, Sammy Sosa (thanks to a diving catch by centerfielder Rocco Baldelli) and Hank Blalock in order, then allowed just a walk in the seventh.
Maddon called it "a growth moment" and said it was an important step for Shields (who struck out a career-high eight) on the way to becoming a consistent winner, and for the team to learn how to - and to expect to - win close games.
Because Shields did his job, Stokes and Reyes had to only do theirs.
"It's huge," Wigginton said. "Shields pitching in the seventh made the game completely different."
Having lost the first two games of the series, and six straight in Texas, the Rays did a few things differently. Maddon changed the lineup again, putting Baldelli back in the leadoff spot and moved Crawford back to the No. 3 spot. Aside from Zobrist's error, they played better defense. And biggest of all - given the major-leagues worst 7.35 ERA and .335 opponents average they brought into the game - was the way they pitched.
"Tonight's ballgame it seemed like we spent more time in the dugout than we did out in the field," Wigginton said. "I think we're happy with the way we're playing ball right now. Granted the Ws are not there, but a hit here or there, we could easily be sitting here undefeated. That's not obviously the case. But I think more and more as we go you're going to see it all come together."