Young Rays continue to play like vets
Newest AL powerhouse knock's off league's top team
ST. PETERSBURG -- Despite handing the Angels -- the American League's top squad -- a 6-4 defeat, Monday night was just another step in the historic rise of another AL powerhouse, the AL East-leading Rays.
"I saw us play a typical Ray game tonight," manager Joe Maddon said. "And that's exactly what I'm shooting for. There was no extra intensity, there was no less intensity. It was the same approach, playing the game, and we came out on top."
Perhaps that's how the Rays have managed to sidestep the loss of three All-Stars -- Evan Longoria, Carl Crawford and Troy Percival -- so well.
Never mind the trio of stars on the disabled list, or the fact that starter Andy Sonnanstine lasted only 5 1/3 innings. Monday's crowd of 15,896 at Tropicana Field saw the same outcome in the Rays' series-opening win over the Angels as they have all year.
Featuring a different hero on a different night and the same familiar "W," Monday's contest gave the Rays their franchise-best 76th win, and extended Sonnanstine's team lead to 13 victories.
Eric Hinske's two-run shot in the bottom of the second inning got things going, as Hinske -- starting in left field in place of Crawford -- entered the game batting .400 (6-for-20) in the club's previous six games. His hot bat continued on Monday night, as Hinske went 2-for-3 with two RBIs and a run scored.
Cliff Floyd went yard off Angels starter Jon Garland for the Rays' second two-run homer of the night in the third inning and was followed by a single from Willy Aybar. Aybar -- assuming Longoria's third base duties -- went 3-for-4, scoring on Hinske's second hit, a single to right field that went through Angels outfielder Vladimir Guerrero's legs.
"I think when you get guys involved early, you tend to know what you are going to get later on," Floyd said. "And I think right now you know what you are going to see with these guys. ... We believe in what we got and we're going to do all right [in dealing with the injuries]."
Sure, there are still signs of inexperience, like Justin Ruggiano running through a stop sign to score in the eighth inning. But Ruggiano -- who was called up Aug. 11 to fill Longoria's roster spot -- singled to open the frame and tacked on an important insurance run in the game's late innings.
Without Percival, the Rays handed the ball to five different arms following Sonnanstine, and the bullpen didn't disappoint.
"It's been a group effort the whole season," Sonnanstine said. "And I think for us to accomplish our goal, it needs to stay a group effort."
A key double-play ball from the rarely used right-hander Jason Hammel was only the latest example of a player stepping up, as Hammel pitched out of a potential jam in the eighth inning.
"Nobody's sitting back and going, 'Oh well, they didn't expect much out of me,'" Floyd said. "No, we expect everything out of each and every one of us. And that's not how we play the game right now. It's not, "Go out there and try to fill the void.' It's about going out there and doing what you are capable of doing."
While the series matchup of the Angels and the Rays features the two top records in the AL, Maddon was wary of making Monday night's win into a measuring stick.
"We played the Cubs all year, we play the Red Sox, we play the Yankees -- we get measured every night," he said. "I really look at every night the same. I really do. I don't feel any less when we play lesser[-established] teams. I get the same butterflies before every game and I approach it the same way."
Judging from the Rays' most recent series wins over Seattle and Texas, the mantra appears to be rubbing off.
"Tonight, we knew we had to play our best baseball to beat their team, especially without two of our biggest guys," Floyd said. "You always talk about our schedule coming up and this and that. But, hey, nobody's going to run over and say, 'Here you go. You all had a great season. We are going to give this to you all.' So we've got to fight and battle one game at a time, and not look forward to nobody else but this team tomorrow, and keep it moving."
Brittany Ghiroli is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.