05/17/08 12:15 AM ET
Sonnanstine leaves Cards in dark
Righty collects two hits, scores a run in his fifth straight victory
By Bill Chastain / MLB.com
By winning, the Rays extended their lead in the American League East to 1 1/2 games over second-place Boston as the Red Sox's game against the Brewers was postponed due to rain. And for the first time in franchise history, the Rays are eight games over the .500 mark at 25-17.
"I sat down with Percy before the game," said Sonnanstine of a session he had with veteran right-hander Troy Percival, who wore a Cardinals uniform last season. "We went over the lineup."
Among the obstacles facing Sonnanstine was how to deal with Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols, one of the best hitters in baseball. He entered the game hitting .357 with eight home runs and 27 RBIs. In addition, he had a hitting streak that had reached 14 games and had reached base in 42 consecutive games.
Both streaks ended when Pujols went 0-for-4 against Sonnanstine, who struck out Pujols in the eighth after the previous batter, Chris Duncan, had launched a 379-foot home run into the right-field stands.
"Our approach on him was, honestly, just keep him in the yard," Sonnanstine said. "He's one of the best hitters in the game right now. [I'm] very happy with the way we went about pitching him tonight."
Sonnanstine allowed one run on eight hits while walking none and striking out four. He moved to 6-1 on the season while winning his fifth straight decision. Sonnanstine's control brought just one three-ball count while 76 of his 98 pitches were strikes.
Sonnanstine's performance showed improvement over his outing against the Angels on Sunday, when he got a no-decision after surrendering five runs in five innings in an 8-5 Rays win.
"After his last outing, again, he's the kind of guy who is going to try and right the ship very quickly, and he did," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "Not surprising."
Sonnanstine felt good warming up in the bullpen before the game.
"It felt like my control was there," Sonnanstine said. "I had good control of the changeup, which was a thing I haven't had in the past. I felt great in the 'pen and took that into the game."
Maddon believes the key for Sonnanstine is to pitch off his fastball. Sonnanstine agreed.
"That's going to have to be my approach this whole season," Sonnanstine said. "As long as I don't stray from that plan, all of my pitches will get better. Just like having control of my changeup tonight. That came off my fastball."
If his eight innings weren't enough, Sonnanstine also shined on offense. With no DH in Interleague games played at National League parks, Sonnanstine took his first hacks of the season and came away with two singles, a run scored, a safe slide into second base on a wild pitch and a sacrifice bunt.
"He was Mr. Everything tonight," Maddon said. "Offense, defense, pitching, he did a little bit of everything tonight -- a nice slide on the ball that bounced back off the wall. He was very good."
Fittingly, Percival pitched the ninth inning, retiring the three batters he faced on two flyouts to center fielder B.J. Upton and another to left fielder Carl Crawford. Though the speedy pair made all three of the plays look routine, they were far from it.
"I wouldn't say routine, because I've been playing a lot of years and never had this kind of defense," Percival said. "... I'm just saying I'm going to let them hit it out there and let them track it down. Especially on a day like today where I had zero arm speed. So I'm just trying to hit spots and get them to hit the ball, and get them to hit it to somebody. It worked out today. Could have gone either direction, but it was just, 'Attack them.' I've got a two-run lead to go with, and [I'm thinking], 'Let that defense work.'"
Percival picked up his 11th save of the season in front of a special audience.
St. Louis is "a great place," Percival said. "It's a great organization. I loved my time here. I'm in a great place now. But it was nice to come back to a city with great fans. It's a great organization."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.