04/12/07 12:10 AM ET
Better early than never for Rays
Five-run cushion holds up as Rangers run out of gas
By Bill Chastain / MLB.com
Ben Zobrist stood on third and Carl Crawford first when Ty Wigginton stepped in to face Rangers right-hander Robinson Tejeda with no outs in the third inning. Wigginton got behind 1-2 while Crawford moved to second base on his second steal of the season. Wigginton then rolled up his sleeves and got busy grinding.
And on the 12th pitch Wigginton created a double.
The ball sailed over the left fielder Brad Wilkerson's head, Zobrist scored, and Tejeda looked as though he'd just run a marathon. By the time the inning ran its course, the Rays had pushed the lead to five runs and they were well on their way to a 6-5 win in front of a crowd of 33,674 at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.
"It was a great at-bat," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "His batting practices of late have been really sharp and I felt really good about him. I just thought he was going to take off and he has."
Wigginton looked for a changeup early in the count.
"I was sitting on a changeup and he got me on a couple of sliders away," Wigginton said. "Then he threw strike two with a heater. After that I was basically trying to get an off-speed pitch I could elevate."
The much-needed victory snapped a four-game losing streak while giving the Rays a 1-2 record on the current seven-game road trip.
While Wigginton's heroics were the most inspirational, the Rays had a healthy cast of heroes beginning with starter James Shields.
Shields looked comfortable cruising along with a 6-1 lead heading into the sixth when Ian Kinsler led off the inning with his fourth home run of the season to cut the lead to 6-2. Kenny Lofton followed with a single before Frank Catalanotto hit what appeared to be a double-play ball to Zobrist, but the Rays' shortstop threw wide of B.J. Upton covering at second to put runners at first and third with no outs. Michael Young then connected for his second home run of the game on a 1-0 Shields offering to cut the lead to 6-5.
Somehow Shields managed to recover from the blow to retire the next three batters in the sixth and finished his outing by pitching a scoreless seventh.
"Our team did a great job jumping out with the lead," Shields said. "I felt real comfortable with the lead. And they ended up coming back and I had to make the pitches there in the seventh inning. After that sixth inning I had to come back in the seventh and shut them down. They had the momentum at that point and I had to stop it."
In getting the win, Shields ended a streak of 11 consecutive games since the last time a Rays starter picked up a winning decision. Tim Corcoran got the last victory in an 11-0 win over the Red Sox at Fenway Park Sept. 27.
Maddon had a feeling Shields would pitch well Wednesday night.
"And he gave it to us," Maddon said. "He's consistently getting better. He seems to be improving and it was a big win for us tonight."
Shields left the game, leaving the Rays' fate in the hands of the bullpen, an outfit that has been shaky at best in the early going of the season. But Brian Stokes and Al Reyes retired the side in the eighth and ninth innings to successfully preserve the win.
"It was a good game tonight," Reyes said. "Shields threw seven strong innings. He got in trouble a little bit, but he got out of that. Then Stokes came in there and got one, two, three, that was good."
Zobrist got the Rays on the scoreboard with a 421-foot solo blast to right field off Tejeda in the first inning. The Rangers tied the score in the bottom half of the inning when Young hit a 409-foot home run to center field off Shields.
Dioner Navarro's RBI single in the second gave the Rays a 2-1 lead that they expanded to 6-1 with a four-run third that included Wigginton's RBI double, Delmon Young's sacrifice fly and Carlos Pena's two-run homer.
Pena had played in just two games prior to Wednesday night and had no hits in seven trips to the plate.
"Carlos Pena tonight, he squared it up four times," Maddon said. "... Very impressed with his at-bats tonight, Zobrist consistently looking better. ... A lot of guys are looking pretty nice up at the plate right now. ... It was a big win in the sense we do have to get better on the road. ... We've got to get beyond these road sweeps, at least one out of three, hopefully two out of three. And then you can start making some road noise. And we want to be able to do that."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.