Matt Joyce gives Rays reason for forget offensive pain for a short while

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — In Wednesday morning’s wee hours, Tampa Bay Rays outfielder Matt Joyce found himself in a contemplative mood made possible because of uncommon frustration. Baseball will drive those within the game crazy sometimes, he understood, and his team was mired in a crazy-bad state following Tuesday’s loss to the St. Louis Cardinals at Tropicana Field.

The Rays’ scoreless streak had reached a team-record 28 consecutive innings. They had been shut out three straight times, which they had never done before, not even as the awful Devil Rays. They searched in recent days for something, anything, to provide pop to their bats again, even if it meant trusting a Seminole medicine man to provide divine power.

So Joyce, unable to sleep, picked up his cell phone and entered inspirational quotes from Dr. Seuss and Ralph Waldo Emerson about persevering through trial. Almost 11 hours later, he posted the reflections on his Twitter account.

"Not many feel sorry for the man who lost and is laying on the mat…" the thought from Dr. Seuss began.

"What lies behind you and what lies in front of you," Emerson’s thought read, "pales in comparison to what lies inside of you."

Marlins vs. Cardinals

"Everybody goes through hard times," Joyce said about the quotes before Wednesday’s series finale against the Cardinals, "and I think you grow the most from those times."

Joyce, wide-awake Wednesday night, will go down as the man who snapped the Rays’ ugly 31-inning scoreless streak. The deed was done in the bottom of the fourth with a frozen-rope single into center field off an 85-mph changeup from right-hander Michael Wacha, dominant to that point, that scored James Loney from second base.

Joyce’s hit served as the first drip in a much-needed drought-buster. It began the sequence that produced four of the Rays’ runs in a 6-3 victory, just their second triumph in their last 16 games: After Loney scored, Yunel Escobar walked on six pitches, advancing Joyce to second; Ryan Hanigan walked on five, loading the bases; and Desmond Jennings cracked a single into left, scoring Joyce and Escobar.

"Obviously, that’s a great feeling to come through and really kick start the party," said Joyce, whose hit was part of the Rays’ 3-for-7 hitting effort with runners in scoring position. "Everybody knows it’s a hard game. Anybody who has played the game knows it’s a hard game. It can really be frustrating at times."

There has been plenty of frustration to go around with these Rays. No single element of this team, no one man, escapes blame.

The pitching has improved of late, but both starters and relievers have lived damaging skids. The defense, once thought to be among the American League’s gold standard, has underwhelmed. The offense, a major disappointment, has ranged from a below-average level to downright embarrassing most of the year.

This night, highlighted by Joyce’s single, was a reprieve. It was one game. It was one victory. They snapped a 30-inning scoreless streak by Cardinals pitchers, who had produced three consecutive shutouts before Wednesday. The Rays salvaged a second victory in the finale of this eight-game homestand.

Sign of honor

Still, they remain the majors’ worst team with a 25-42 record, 14 games behind the Toronto Blue Jays in the AL East. They have done enough to earn the infamy.

But Wednesday, finally, the offense awakened from its slumber.

"The guys needed that," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "You could just see them relax immediately. You could just see it — better at-bats showing up, you could see more believability. They just needed that. It has been so awkward to watch this other side of this whole thing. I’m not going to say that we’re cured, but I definitely believe it’s a step in the right direction."

Joyce said as much by his locker late Wednesday. He spoke about the being rewarded for relaxation, about avoiding the temptation to press. His day began in the morning’s dark hours, with a prolonged struggle weighing on his mind, and this night became a reason to escape the mire for a short while.

"You’re never going to stop working, never stop with the effort and giving it everything you have," Joyce said. "Sometimes, you’ve just got to relax a little bit more and trust yourself."

You can follow Andrew Astleford on Twitter @aastleford or email him at aastleford@gmail.com.