06/25/08 11:40 PM ET
Ten-run fifth carries Rays past Marlins
Offense erupts for season-high 15 runs in series-clinching win
By Brittany Ghiroli / MLB.com
In between, the 27-year-old had seen seven starts, lacking perhaps everything but a bit of luck, as the Rays entered Wednesday 9-2 in games Shields lasted at least six innings, with a slew of come-from-behind wins.
But Wednesday night finally provided a much-needed blowout for an offense that had been sorely lacking, and a pitcher that had been more than deserving, as the Rays gift-wrapped Shields a resounding 15-3, series-clinching victory over the Marlins.
"That was something special tonight," Evan Longoria said. "I know we can put together some rallies, you know, but I've never seen anything like that."
The biggest star among the juggernaut bats was Carl Crawford, who had a three-run blast in the third inning and went yard again off Florida starter Ryan Tucker to open up the floodgates in the fifth. Crawford's second homer traveled an estimated 429 feet and was followed by a walk and an RBI double from Eric Hinske, who was the last batter Tucker faced.
The Fish went through three arms in that fateful frame, but couldn't contain the Rays' all-cylinders offense, as Tampa Bay -- buoyed by that 10-run fifth inning -- went on to set a new season high in total runs scored (15). It was the largest run tally for the Rays since Sept. 5, 2007, a game that saw the club plate 17 runs vs. the Yankees.
"Nobody was giving up their at-bats," Crawford said of the fifth-inning explosion. "Even when we scored a bunch of runs, guys were still taking their at-bat like it was their last. It was just nice to see everybody get in on the action like that."
With the win, the Rays moved to 15 games over .500 for the first time in franchise history, clinching their fourth Citrus Series victory.
The wealth of good fortune came just one day removed from one of the club's ugliest, mistake-laden wins this year, where the Rays went a dismal 2-for-12 with runners in scoring position.
"We just needed that kind of explosion. Hopefully, that's going to get us going," manager Joe Maddon said. "And again, it's going to get you going through confidence. We do the work, the works there, the mechanics [are] there, all that other kind of stuff. It's about how you feel about yourself, so hopefully after tonight we will have a better feeling about that."
While the Marlins bullpen had seemingly no answer for the Rays, it was all Shields for most of the night on Wednesday, as a solo home run by Mike Jacobs in the sixth inning spoiled a potential shutout appearance.
Jacobs' run was the lone blemish for the right-hander, as Shields tossed seven innings of four-hit ball and got out of an early first-and-third jam in the third inning to keep the Marlins bats at bay.
"Crucial moment, he really came through and made difference in tonight's game," Maddon said. "Starting pitchers are about winning games and just to get that next 'W' up there is going to serve as positive motivation going into his next start."
Despite several early miscues, including two defensive errors in the first two innings, Shields kept his composure and was rewarded handily as the Rays bats tattooed their intrastate rival, guiding the right-hander to his fifth win this season.
"Oh absolutely, I'll take that every game," Shields said of the offensive support. "It's like I said, it's a lot easier to pitch that way and it's definitely fun doing that."
It is fun that the Rays hope to replicate as they head into the third game of a six-game Interleague road trip.
"It's just like any other facet of the game, you get hot and then boom, all of sudden it takes off," Maddon said. "Maybe this is something that can get us unstuck and get us rolling in the right direction offensively."
Longoria was equally optimistic that Wednesday's performance wasn't merely a case of smoke and mirrors.
"We don't click too often [offensively]. We find ways to win games," Longoria admitted. "But, that's really what we're capable of when everybody starts doing what they can do."
Brittany Ghiroli is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.