Another dramatic victory provides Rays with one more step in climb out of AL East basement
MAY 24, 2014 12:39a ET
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- A climb from the basement begins with a single step.
Or in Cole Figueroa's case, a raised right fist on a sprint to second base, then a beeline to shallow right field like he ran with his heels on fire, then a leap into an impromptu mosh pit that began in the dirt between first and second after scoring Desmond Jennings on a bloop double that found the turf in right center.
Joy. Elation. The sights of another walk-off win, this one thanks to a fresh face called up May 15 from Triple-A Durham after second baseman Ben Zobrist was placed on the disabled list with a dislocated left thumb.
Take 'em how they come. This is more like it.
"It was kind of last-minute," said Figueroa, the pinch-hitter responsible for clinching the Tampa Bay Rays' 1-0 victory over the Boston Red Sox on Friday at Tropicana Field. Yes, he now has all of two career hits in the majors to his name.
"Kind of last-minute" is a good way to describe this small spike in Rays momentum, which has allowed them to pass the Red Sox by percentage points for fourth place in the American League East.
None of this has happened in a flash. None of this has happened easy.
It started with Sean Rodriguez's home run to left field to beat the Oakland Athletics in 11 innings Thursday. It gained more life with Figueroa's dramatics Friday -- which occurred when he subbed for Rodriguez, no less -- and it will be a ride to watch where this lit fuse travels from here.
More victories? More memories? A further rise from the division's depths, where the Rays spent the past 17 days?
For now, the warm smiles beat the recent tumble's cold tension by a rout.
"We're very capable of doing that," said Rays manager Joe Maddon, who gave the green light for Figueroa to hit against right-hander Burke Badenhop because of a perceived favorable matchup against the groundball pitcher. "We've had plenty of opportunities to have done that in that last homestand, and we did not. How about the seven-hole? It's pretty hot. The seven-hole last night was Rodriguez. Tonight, the seven-hole was Rodriguez-slash-Figueroa. It's coming from different directions. That's the thing I kind of like."
He should. Figueroa wasn't the lone success story found in sending Boston to its eighth consecutive loss.
-- Right-hander Chris Archer threw a career-high 119 pitches and completed six innings for the first time since April 25 against the Chicago White Sox. He had gone his past four starts without doing so.
"Every outing is a growth moment for me," said Archer, who struck out 11. "But specifically tonight, the fact that I was able to battle through and throw the most pitches I was able to throw and still be strong late in the game -- I stayed consistent with my thoughts, which is always going to be a confidence-booster."
-- Third baseman Evan Longoria went 3 or 4, his best outing at the plate since going 3 for 6 against the New York Yankees on May 2. He had one hit in his previous four games.
"He had some really good at-bats," Maddon said. "Outstanding at-bats. Crispy line drives. ... I'm sure he's going to sleep a lot better."
Many others will too. The past two days became a collective "whew" after the queasy feelings of a 1-5 run from May 15-21.
There's still so much work to do to become a contender again. The Rays, now with a 21-28 record, remain a work in progress with more patchwork necessary in their progress. After all, these were their first consecutive victories since beating the Seattle Mariners on May 13 and May 14.
Those gaps in gains within the win column can't happen.
But there's no deadline to do the deed, as long as victory is claimed when the final out is recorded. Thursday, it was Rodriguez. Friday, it was Figueroa's turn to shine, shortly after he heard from bench coach Dave Martinez, "If the righty comes in, we're going to pinch-hit, and you're going to go up there and win the game for us."
Sometimes, the smallest steps are the most memorable.