Rays sting Greinke with 1-2 punch
Aybar homers twice as Bartlett, Crawford spark Tampa Bay
ST. PETERSBURG -- Joe Maddon tweaked the lineup Monday afternoon. All managers should have the pleasure of experiencing the instant gratification the Rays skipper received watching his every move work.
The fruits of Maddon's wisdom led the Rays to a 10-4 victory over the Royals with a crowd of 24,219 watching at Tropicana Field. By winning, Tampa Bay claimed the series, 3-1, and moved back to 10 games over .500 for the season.
"Joe tends to have reason behind what he does, from my standpoint, from what I've recognized so far," Gabe Kapler said. "He always has answers for why he does things; he has a reason for why he makes the moves that he makes."
Jason Bartlett has been the Rays' bottom feeder for most of the season, occupying the ninth spot in the order while B.J. Upton has been solidly entrenched in the leadoff spot. Upton had the day off Monday, so Maddon moved Bartlett into the leadoff position.
Bartlett drew a leadoff walk in the first, moved to second on Carl Crawford's single and both scored on Carlos Pena's single to give the Rays a 2-0 lead over tough Royals right-hander Zack Greinke, who entered the game as the Major League's ERA leader at 2.08.
In the second inning, Bartlett and Crawford were again back in the mix. Bartlett successfully dropped a bunt down the third-base line to load the bases for Crawford, who doubled home two to put the Rays up 4-1.
"I was very bad the first couple of batters of the game," Greinke said. "The second inning, I walked the leadoff batter, just like I did in the first. Those are two things you can't do, and I'm only beating myself."
Off to a good start, but hardly done, Bartlett doubled to lead off the fourth and scored on Crawford's RBI single. And for good measure, Bartlett added a two-run triple in the seventh that pushed the Rays' lead to 10-3.
"Obviously I liked [hitting leadoff]," Bartlett said. "We won, we had a good game, I had a good game -- and if that's what [Maddon] wants to do, I'm more than happy to do that.
"He's said all season long that me batting ninth is another leadoff spot. If he wants me batting first, I'm more than willing."
Meanwhile, Willy Aybar started at designated hitter instead of a slumping Pat Burrell, and the switch-hitting super sub supported the effort with a solo home run from each side of the plate to give him 10 for the season.
"What stands out for me is Willy," Kapler said. "He had a very successful game against Greinke the last time out. It's amazing to see him not play for a couple of days and step into the box like he's been four for his last four. Every time, that's what it looks like to me with Willy."
Aybar said his secret is all about mental preparation and working hard every day. He now has four hits in six at-bats against Greinke. Monday's homer against the Royals ace came on a slider.
"I've had a lot of luck against him," Aybar said. "He is a good pitcher, but I've just looked for my pitch and I've had luck with that."
Finally, there were the contributions of Kapler and Michel Hernandez, who started in center field and at catcher, respectively.
Kapler singled and walked, scoring two runs and making a brilliant over-the-shoulder catch of Billy Butler's drive to the center-field wall to lead off the fourth. Meanwhile, Hernandez scored two runs and had two hits, including an RBI triple.
In the middle of all this substitution success, Scott Kazmir started for the Rays and put together his second successive quality start by holding the Royals to three runs in six-plus innings to pick up his sixth win of the season.
The past two outings have "done a lot for my confidence," Kazmir said. "At the same time, you go out there, do what you have to do, stay within yourself, pitch your game and not worry about anything else around you because there's a lot of stuff you can't control."
Changes worked for the Rays on Monday. But will any of those changes be adopted on a full-time basis? Maddon said one of his duties as a manager is to remain consistent and, in essence, not have a hair trigger where major moves are concerned. So he planned to take a long bicycle ride along Tampa's Bayshore Boulevard on Tuesday morning to reflect on whether he should ride the wave of Monday's success.
"By the time I get back, hopefully I'll have all the answers," Maddon said.
Clearly the Rays manager had all the answers Monday afternoon.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.