Rays ride offensive onslaught, sweep Angels
After being victimized by the Mariners' Felix Hernandez four days earlier in his perfect game, the Tampa Bay Rays responded perfectly in Anaheim.
They did it by taking four-of-four from the Angels for the first time ever — sparked by an offensive explosion that accounted for a club-record 37 runs in a series, a wild Saturday night comeback that wiped out an 8-0 deficit, and a dominant 8-3 triumph Sunday to complete their road trip with eight victories in 10 games.
Nobody could have seen this one coming: from sweep-less in Seattle to California Dreamin'.
And Sunday night, they were flying high — literally — on their way home from the West Coast, fueled by 11 wins in their last 13 games, a season-best mark of 13 games over .500 (67-54), sweeps in three of their last four series and a one-game lead as the No. 1 wild card seed.
It was as close to a perfect response as the Rays could have mustered on the heels of being historically humbled last Wednesday by Mariners' ace Felix Hernandez.
The Rays back-pedaled into greater Los Angeles stinging from the third perfect game tossed against them in four seasons and a ninth-inning, give-away loss the night before to Seattle that was just as painful in its own way.
Facing a fearsome foursome of LA pitchers — Dan Haren, 2012 Cy Young Award candidate Jered Weaver, multimillion-dollar free agent C.J. Wilson and 2009 AL Cy Young winner Zach Greinke — Tampa Bay could easily have wilted in the dry Southern California heat.
But the Rays pounced on the Angels' marquee starters, who barely totaled 16 innings combined: 3.2, 3, 4.2 and 6, respectively, in losses of 7-0, 12-3 and 10-8 prior to Sunday. The offense that has struggled much of the season and was completely helpless against Hernandez awoke in amazing fashion:
The Rays hit .400 with runners in scoring position, hit .315 (46-for-146), belted nine home runs and scored at least 10 runs in consecutive games for the first time since 2010.
In fact, the Rays' batting average over the 10-game trip was .288 and if you exclude their 0-for-27 showing against Hernandez, they hit .315 over 10 games — not bad for a club hitting in the low .230s most of the year.
Sunday's box score told the tale, as all nine Tampa Bay batters got at least one hit. And many Rays had noteworthy moments throughout the series:
• There was Carlos Pena's two-run, pinch-hit homer Saturday that provided the winning runs. The offensive outpouring rekindled the memory of Game 162 last season, when the Rays battled back from a 7-0 deficit against the Yankees, helped by Evan Longoria's three-run homer and Dan Johnson's dramatic pinch-hit blast. In this one, Longoria pulled the Rays close with a two-run home run to spark a seven-run fifth, Sam Fuld drove in the first RBI of the rally with a single (just as he did with a walk in 162) and Pena summoned the clutch spirit of Johnson to hit his first career pinch-hit homer.
• Second baseman Ryan Roberts continued his hot bat. He bashed a double Saturday and scored the tying run at 8-8, hit a solo shot Sunday off Greinke and hit .333 (12-for-36) on the road trip.
• And B.J. Upton sparked the Rays in the first two wins over the Angels, going 6-for-9 with two homers and four RBI.
"We couldn't do anything about Felix — he was tough that day," said Tampa Bay catcher Jose Molina, who homered and drove in three runs Saturday night. "The guys, we talked around and we said, ‘You know what, that was just one game. We've got to step up against the Angels.' And we did."
Manager Joe Maddon echoed the point in his post-game press briefing to reporters in Anaheim.
"I really believe it's a testament to our players, and how they are able to put things in the trashcan immediately afterwards when something bad happens," he said. "When you carry negativity around with you, nothing good can happen. So I'm really proud of our players and how they have dealt (with adversity). And even the other loss in Seattle. That was a tough loss also. Two tough losses. Put it in the rear-view mirror and come out and play great down here."
The Rays' pitching, with the exception of Alex Cobb's unexpected stumble Saturday, did its normally top-notch job as well.
On Thursday, David Price opened the series by pitching seven innings of three-hit ball and improve to 16-4 with an ERA of 2.39, boosting his hopes for Cy Young consideration in the process. James Shields went six innings, yielding seven hits while fanning eight to notch the win (now 11-7, 4.03).
Cobb was another story. After three strong outings, he was ambushed by the Angels, falling behind by eight runs on 12 hits in 2.2 innings. But the Rays' standout bullpen came to the rescue, with six pitchers carrying the rest of the load — including J.P. Howell extending his club-record scoreless streak to 24.2 innings and ex-Angel Fernando Rodney, despite a scare, notching his career-best 38th save.
Rookie Matt Moore picked up the pace on Sunday, limiting the Angels to five hits in 6.1 innings. He allowed a pair of solo homers but more than held his own before Maddon pulled him due to the 90-degree heat. After a rocky start of 1-5 this season, the hard-throwing lefty is now on a 9-2 run (overall 10-7 with a 3.57 ERA).
The Rays gave Moore an early 4-0 lead in the second as Greinke got into trouble, giving up two runs with a hit batsman and walk, and a two-run single by Matt Joyce. That was an improvement over last week in Seattle, when Moore left with a 2-1 lead after seven innings, only to watch the Mariners rally for the win in the ninth.
This time, the outcome was more enjoyable for Moore and his teammates as they head home to start a three-game series Monday against Kansas City, third in the AL Central at 54-66 with Jeremy Hellickson (7-8, 3.39) facing Will Smith 4-4, 5.09).
"This is exactly what we needed to do," he said. "We didn't necessarily need to go 8-2, but something like that where we can stay in contention."
And that's exactly where they are after a memorable trip, thanks to a perfect ending.