Record needed for Rays to top Tribe
Longoria's 22nd home run of season sets rookie mark for Rays
ST. PETERSBURG -- Forget about division rivals like the Red Sox and Yankees, the toughest opponent for the Rays this season has been wearing a different shade of red and blue.
And after five straight losses to Cleveland, it was only fitting it would take a record and a slew of arms for the Rays to finally come up on the right side of Tuesday night's 8-4 victory at Tropicana Field.
"We got the monkey off our back with the Indians," Cliff Floyd said. "Weird as that sounds, they've got a scrappy team ... so we will take this one and run."
With one out in the seventh inning, Evan Longoria blasted a 2-2 pitch off reliever Rafael Betancourt to set a new Rays rookie club record with his 22nd long ball this season. Longoria's knock also scored Carlos Pena and was followed by back-to-back solo shots from Floyd and Dioner Navarro to give the Rays some distance on the Tribe.
Just 22 years old, Longoria's poise in the batter's box continues to impress, as the young infielder hit several threatening foul balls off Betancourt prior to the homer.
"When do you ever see a guy hit a home run foul and then hit an actual home run?" Dan Wheeler marveled. "The offense came through big. ... Hopefully, it's a sign of things to come."
Although Tuesday's win involved the Rays' usual recipe of pitching, defense and timely hitting, it was the seventh inning's power blasts that helped take the heat off the pitching staff.
"It's been saving us all year," Floyd said of the Rays' solid pitching. "You kind of know what makes you win and what makes you lose, and what makes us win is our pitching and our defense. And then we have timely hitting. Tonight, we got the hits when we needed it."
While the Rays have played musical chairs with their bench the last few days, Tuesday night was a revolving door of arms as the team used five different pitchers to record the win.
Starter Edwin Jackson batted through 5 2/3 innings -- allowing three runs on seven hits -- before exiting with runners on first and second. Jackson was followed by J.P. Howell, who walked Grady Sizemore to load the bases, forcing Maddon to insert Grant Balfour as the inning's third pitcher.
"It just didn't want to work the way I was seeing it in my mind's eye," Maddon said, adding that Jackson's walk to No 9. batter Asdrubal Cabrera forced Howell into the game. "But it rarely does. So we just had to make the adjustments on the fly and our guys did a great job."
Balfour was brought in to relieve Howell largely for his strikeout abilities, but that didn't go according to plan either. Instead, it was center fielder B.J. Upton's on-the-run grab that retired Ben Francisco and effectively ended the threat.
And when Balfour opened the seventh inning in a jam, it was Wheeler's turn in the merry-go-round of arms. With Cleveland threatening with runners on first and third, Wheeler got the best of Franklin Gutierrez. The right-hander tossed a slider that caused the outfielder to fly out, and the Rays to put the kibosh on another potential Indians rally.
"I really believe we showed a lot of heart," Maddon said. "A lot of want to -- we wanted to win that game. Somehow we did, because these guys have really pressed us hard. So I was really pleased with the effort of our players tonight."
Whether it was Pena twice stretching a single into a double, or Navarro collecting a two-out single to plate a pair of early runs, the Rays' entire lineup stepped up and took some pressure off the pitchers.
With the win, the Rays maintained their three-game lead in the AL East over the Red Sox. And as the calendar creeps closer and closer to October, the club knows how important every victory has become.
"Every win is huge and we need [it] over the course of the season," Floyd said. "In our minds, to get to 90-something wins, you got to win now, as much as you can, every day."
Brittany Ghiroli is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.