Rays use seven-run sixth to sink Nats
Zobrist's go-ahead three-run homer highlights outburst
ST. PETERSBURG -- It started with a measly single, a nonchalant, two-strike base hit to center field by Evan Longoria.
Then, a bunt by the cleanup hitter, Carlos Pena, which trickled up the third-base line long enough for him to leg out a hit.
Two simple, routine baseball plays, not for flair but purely function, both unexpected yet setting up the inevitable. As if on cue, Ben Zobrist hit the first pitch he saw. And as the ball sailed deep into the right-center-field stands, the crowd's ecstatic cheers couldn't cover up the whooshing sound of the life being sucked right out of the Washington dugout.
And from there, the rout was on.
Zobrist's go-ahead three-run home run off Washington reliever Jason Bergmann sparked a seven-run sixth inning rally that carried the Rays past the Nationals, 8-3, in front of 30,586 at Tropicana Field on Saturday night.
As if sensing the Nationals' vulnerability after replacing rookie starter Jordan Zimmermann -- who had held the Rays to one run through five innings -- Tampa Bay wasted no time pouncing on Bergmann and the bullpen.
Two batters after Zobrist's dinger, Gabe Gross hit a two-run home run and Longoria eventually returned to the plate for a two-run double to complete the rally.
In all, 11 batters, seven hits, seven runs -- a crooked number on a scoreboard for a team that had been quiet until then.
"It felt good off the bat," Zobrist said. "It's just a great feeling to know you're going from down two to up one, just like that."
Zimmermann looked sharp in his 10th career start, holding the Rays to four hits, one run, two walks and striking out six through five innings. He was in line for his first win since April 26.
It was the second consecutive come-from-behind win for the Rays. Tampa Bay was down, 3-0, after the first inning on Friday, but came back to tie it in the sixth and won, 4-3, on a solo homer by pinch-hitter Gabe Kapler in the eighth.
"We just need to keep pushing, pushing, pushing," Rays manager Joe Maddon. "It's starting to look more normal around here."
Maddon was quick to praise the performance of the slugger Pena, who tied Mark Teixeira for the American League lead with his 20th home run in the fourth, then followed up with his bunt single in the sixth.
"That was all Carlos," Maddon said. "It just speaks to the whole team. Of course, it's a hit for him, but he was playing the game of baseball right there. And we like to be able to do that."
Longoria finished 2-for-4, Reid Brignac went 3-for-4 and B.J. Upton went 1-for-4 with two steals. The Rays collected 12 hits.
"I got a good pitch to hit," Gross said. "It was kind of over the plate a little bit. My two at-bats against Zimmermann, I didn't see anything that wasn't on the black."
Tampa Bay also got a solid performance out of Andy Sonnanstine, who gave up a solo home run in the first inning to Ryan Zimmerman and worked out of a jam in the third to earn his fifth win of the year. Sonnanstine went 7 1/3 innings, allowing six hits, three runs, one walk and five strikeouts.
Sonnanstine was more than happy to sit through a long sixth as the offense tallied runs on the board and put him in position to win. It was the 17th time this season the Rays have scored five or more runs in one inning, the most in the Major Leagues.
"I felt a little stiff," Sonnanstine said about pitching after the break. "But I got through my warmup pitches and just kept attacking."
On a somber note in the ninth, Rays reliever Jason Isringhausen left the game after feeling discomfort in his right elbow after releasing a pitch. The 1-2 pitch sailed well high and to the backstop and the 36-year-old Isringhausen pointed down to his elbow and left the game. He was placed on the 15-day disabled list.
The sour news hardly put a damper on another comeback win for the Rays, who moved to two games above .500 for the first time all season, with a chance to sweep the Nationals on Sunday afternoon.
"We don't take anybody lightly," Maddon said. "We got kind of fortunate [Friday], and today, once we got Zimmermann out of the game, we got back to looking like ourselves."
Zach Schonbrun is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.