ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — The Tampa Bay Rays went back to an old formula that has served them well.
They got solid starting pitching, game-changing defensive plays, hits at the right time and most noticeably, shutout relief pitching from Jake McGee in the seventh inning, Joel Peralta in the eighth and Fernando Rodney in the ninth.
That was enough for a 4-2 victory over the San Diego Padres on Sunday.
“It felt like it was back to normal,” said Sean Rodriguez, who delivered one of the key hits in a sixth-inning rally. “You can never lose that confidence in your bullpen. They’ve earned that respect from us. They’re going to turn it around.”
Rodriguez, Yunel Escobar and James Loney drove in late runs for the Rays, who won their fifth straight and moved above .500 for the first time since April 5.
Roberto Hernandez (2-4) pitched six innings, giving up five hits and two runs. Rodney, who pitched the ninth for his 11th save, was preceded by McGee and Peralta, who have been less than automatic in the early stages of the season.
“We’ve been through a bad stretch,” said Peralta, “and everybody has expected us to do what we’ve been doing the last couple days. It feels great to go out there and win games, especially McGee because I know when he gets going, he’s going to be unstoppable.”
McGee came into the game with a 1-2 record and a 10.38 earned run average in 16 games.
“It’s been good to go out there and have some 1-2-3 innings instead of battling through every pitch,” said the left-hander.
The Rays trailed 2-1 in the sixth when Evan Longoria, who hit a winning two-run homer with two outs in the ninth Saturday night, led off with a double. Rodriguez hit a tying single off Eric Stults (3-3), moved up on a wild pitch by Brad Brach and scored on Escobar’s double for a 3-2 lead.
Loney, hitting .456 in his last 24 games, connected for his third homer of the season in the eighth off Dale Thayer.
It wasn’t a big offensive game for the Rays, who have scored 90 runs in their last 14 games. But with the pitching and defense back in form, it was enough.
“It’s funny to be talking about the pitching in that way because we’re normally about pitching and not getting enough offense,” said manager Joe Maddon. “But you cannot score enough runs if you don’t pitch well. The pitching is starting to look like it’s supposed to and while all that’s happening, let’s maintain this offensive production and see where it takes us.”
Yonder Alonso drove in San Diego’s first run with a single in the fourth, and Alexi Amarista’s second home run of the season put the Padres ahead 2-1 in the fifth.
But that was all for the Padres, who were robbed by Sam Fuld’s catch crashing into the center-field wall in the first inning; by Escobar’s diving stab behind second base with two men on base in the fifth; and by Matt Joyce’s basket catch on the warning track in the ninth.
The Rays’ bullpen has now pitched 13 2/3 straight shutout innings, including 9 2/3 against the Padres.
“We had some opportunities and couldn’t get the big hit, and they did. That was the key,” said Padres manager Bud Black. “They got a couple of big hits, along with the home run. We just couldn’t mount any sustained offense today.”
The Padres were swept despite hitting five home runs and having led in all three games.
NOTES: RHP Burch Smith, who pitched only 1 1-3 innings for the Padres in his major league debut Saturday night, will start at home next weekend against Washington. Manager Bud Black said he plans to use “the same rotation for the foreseeable future.” … Rays CF Desmond Jennings was out of the lineup for a third straight day with a mild groin strain. Maddon said he will probably play Tuesday . . . Amarista’s home run was the Padres’ 19th in 14 games. They hit only 12 in their first 23.