Rays change narrative with winning streak

Tampa Bay stumbled through the first two months of the season, but scrapped over the last few days to string together its first four-game winning streak of the season. So it took a what if it took a while, says Andrew Astleford.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- There were three dominant narratives before the Tampa Bay Rays began their current winning streak. These were neon-bright elephants parked in the clubhouse of whichever city they found themselves throughout the past two weeks: Seattle, Anaheim, here.

The Rays can't score.

Logan Forsythe can't hit.

Longo? Evan Longoria looks more Lost-O at the plate.

Silence those sound bites from the conversation after Sunday, which became the fourth consecutive day that ended with beats bumping from the Rays clubhouse. This one, an 8-5 win over the Boston Red Sox at Tropicana Field, will be recalled for a strange seventh-inning benches-clearing incident that resulted in the ejections of Red Sox left fielder Jonny Gomes plus Rays shortstop Yunel Escobar and designated hitter Sean Rodriguez.

But look past the sideshow. Look beyond the sensational to discover something more sound, specifically a possible contender that has found its balance for the moment after a tripping over its misfortune throughout most of its first 47 games. The current four-game winning streak is the Rays' longest of the season, though most reasonable baseball minds would have pegged this feat to be achieved sometime in April, not late May.

Whatever. It has happened now -- after Tampa Bay tumbled to 19-28 after play last Wednesday -- and the reasons are simple.

The Rays have scored more.

Forsythe has discovered the appropriate use of a baseball bat.

Longo looks Lost-O no more.

"Our guys don't quit," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "I said that even when it wasn't going nearly as well, when we lost kind of a lot of these close games late, but nevertheless, (we were) always in the game to the very end. All of the sudden, we're starting to get some fortuitous hits. The pitching has been great. The defense has tightened up – a lot of the things that we had expected from Day One."

The Rays have looked like the real Rays, the contender Rays, since last Thursday. They outscored the Oakland Athletics and Red Sox a combined 20-12 in the span. Forsythe, a ghost in the batter's box for so long, went 4 for 9 with three RBI in games Saturday and Sunday. Longoria, who before last Thursday had just three hits in nine games from May 12-21, went 9 for 21 with one home run and one RBI in the past four.

Crumple those old storylines. It's time to scratch out something new.

The Rays, once hapless, have earned a little hope.

"We've been battling," third-base coach Tom Foley said. "We're trying to battle. Obviously, we're scoring some runs when they count. We're not quitting. We're getting pretty good pitching, and you hate to waste pitching. But I just think that's what it is. We just keep grinding away."

That's what the season is all about, of course. The grind. The will. The rise or collapse.

All this tests well-intentioned men in unexpected ways. The 162-game schedule can either reveal light at the limit of its long, dark depths. Or it can gobble up dreams and spit them away like yesterday's chewing tobacco.

The disciplined survive. This concept isn't limited to the Rays or contained within the American and National Leagues. It's baseball, plain and simple, from Little League's orange slices to the Big Show's large dollars.

The Rays found a way to change their narratives. It's no big surprise, because they played with better discipline in this evolution. From the collective offense to Forsythe to Longoria, everything improved.

Sure, these Rays remain flawed. They sunk to the bottom of the American League East for a reason. They played, at times, ugly baseball while throwing mud on their record in ways that hadn't been seen around here since the nightmare 2007 season, when the "Devil Rays" finished 66-96. They deserved the mark they owned.

And who's to know if things will remain the way they are? Their offense could lose its teeth again. Forsythe could falter. Longoria could turn Lost-O once more.

But they deserve their current recovery. That familiar edge has become the fuel.

What's back?

"The attitude among a lot of the guys," Rodriguez said, when describing what he liked from the upswing, "the way they were going about it."

That direction is a whole lot more pleasing than four days ago.

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

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