Pair of Pena homers paces Rays
Potent Tampa Bay offense backs Sonnanstine's strong start
NEW YORK -- Andy Sonnanstine's night, Carlos Pena's week and Carl Crawford's month. Add them all up, and it equals a 9-1 Rays win over the Yankees on Friday night in front of 53,275 at Yankee Stadium.
The Rays have now won seven of their last eight in a concentrated effort to end the 2007 season on a high note while playing the role of spoiler against contending teams.
"This is our opportunity to become battle-tested for years to come," manager Joe Maddon said. "I mean, everybody uses the word spoiler, which is wonderful, but for me, this is our opportunity to understand what it feels like to play at this time of year, when the games count."
Starter Sonnanstine kept the Yankees off balance all night, spotting his fastball to set up an array of pitches delivered from different angles. The right-hander allowed just one run on two hits in eight innings to pick up his fourth win of the season.
"I don't know, I just felt like I was throwing the ball really effectively tonight," Sonnanstine said. "I used the fastball a lot tonight, had some great success with it, so I'm really buying into it."
Sonnanstine is now 3-1 in his last four starts.
"Sonnie set such a tone for us, and it was by throwing strikes, challenging them, because they like to get into hitter's counts," Maddon said. "And if you get after them a little bit, stay in the zone, that's your best chance, possibly."
Pena's week began with a two-homer performance against the A's on Sunday at Tropicana Field, with Sonnanstine on the mound. He added another during the three-game sweep of the Orioles in Baltimore, and he topped off his week -- though it's just a six-day week to this point -- with two homers against the Yankees on Friday.
"It definitely feels good to come out and get that first game of the series," Pena said. "We know they've been playing good baseball, but we have been playing good baseball also. And to come out and win this first one is very important to us."
Pena believes that the less cluttered his mind, the better his bat.
"You come out and play the game, and you keep it as simple as possible," he said. "And good things happen when you do that. That's our challenge as players. ... The simpler you keep it, the better."
Pena now has 33 home runs for the season, leaving him one shy of the club record, held by Jose Canseco (1999) and Aubrey Huff (2003).
"He's done a lot of great work this year," Maddon said. "He's a wonderful young man. He's also a great clubhouse contributor, so it's really great to see him doing what he's doing right now."
As for Crawford, all he has done is hit, hit and hit some more in the month of August. By going 2-for-5 on Friday -- including two RBIs and a stolen base -- the left fielder closed out the month with his 49th and 50th hits.
"[I'm] just trying to go out there and get it done any way I can," said Crawford, attempting to quantify what has fueled his hot streak. "Having B.J. [Upton] and Pena behind me, I'm getting pitched to, getting more pitches to hit. When those guys got behind me, I got hot. ... I've been going the other way more, trying not to overswing and just taking what the pitchers give me."
In reaching 50 hits in August, Crawford became the 27th Major Leaguer in the last 50 years to collect 50 or more hits in a month.
"Line drives all over the field," Maddon said. "He's been utilizing the whole ballpark. He's been hitting for power when it's necessary, just better at-bats. Accepting his walks, just better overall at-bats, but line drives from line to line, that's what I've been seeing all month."
Friday night's win gave the Rays four straight, which ties their season high for consecutive victories, and they finished the month of August with a 15-14 record, marking the club's second winning month during Maddon's tenure.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.