07/30/08 5:25 PM ET
Rays bats heat up, finish road trip right
Club takes series from Jays, gaining further ground in AL East
By Bill Chastain / MLB.com
By virtue of the victory, the Rays will return to Tropicana Field on Friday night on the heels of a 4-3 road trip against the Royals and Blue Jays, a result far more palatable than the club's last trip, where it did not claim a win in six games against the Yankees and Indians.
"We played with a lot of intensity this whole series, and that's all I'm looking for," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "I'm looking for the effort and the want-to, and the cutting down of mental mistakes. And if we do that, we'll win games on the road. We played with much better composure."
Jackson started for the Rays and picked up his seventh win of the season, but he had to battle to do so, as he managed to hold the Jays to two runs despite giving up seven hits and walking two. Twice the 24-year-old right-hander faced jams where the Jays had a man on third with no outs, and twice he did not allow the run to score.
"It wasn't easy by any means, it took being aggressive and making good pitches when I needed them," Jackson said. "It was just one of those things where you have to work through it. You either work through it or you don't. There's no in-between. You either get it done or you're not going to get it done."
Maddon complimented Jackson's composure on a day when he didn't have his best stuff.
"Jack did a great job pitching through some really difficult moments," Maddon said. "I was really pleased with the way he battled through some different times, because he was facing some pretty good hitters in those moments."
Jackson pitched five innings before giving way to four relievers, beginning with J.P. Howell and followed by Grant Balfour, Dan Wheeler, and Troy Percival, each contributing a scoreless inning.
"The bullpen was great," Maddon said. "They did a great job."
Percival took over in the ninth and retired Joe Inglett on a groundout after falling behind 3-0 in the count. Marco Scutaro then flew out to center before Percival fell behind 3-0 to Alex Rios. Once again, Percival worked the situation in his favor, getting the count up to 3-2 before retiring Rios on a popout to Carlos Pena at first to end the game.
"It's good to have a clean one when I have a one-run lead," said Percival, who has had some close calls lately. "I felt pretty good, especially getting the top of that lineup. Inglett's been swinging the bat pretty well. Scutaro, you never know if he's trying to pull or shoot the ball the other way. And with Rios, he's trying to tie it up with one swing. So it's a pretty tough challenge to get through those three guys."
Percival earned his 23rd save of the season has put him at a career mark of 347, pulling him into a tie with Randy Myers for eighth place on the all-time saves list.
"I just have to open my sights on who's next," said the 38-year-old Percival. "I think there's only one more [pitcher] I can reach."
Jeff Reardon is seventh on the list, with 367 saves, trailing the Mets' Billy Wagner by 18.
The Rays' offense got busy early Wednesday. Carl Crawford's RBI triple in the first drove home B.J. Upton to give the Rays a 1-0 lead before the Jays answered in the bottom half with a Lyle Overbay two-run homer to put the Jays on top, 2-1.
"We're swinging the bats a little better, so hopefully we'll continue to swing the bats well," said Crawford, who has now hit in five consecutive games. "We need to [keep hitting] if we're going to keep winning up through September."
Pena led off the Rays' fourth with his 18th home run of the season to tie the score at 2.
"I'm just happy to be able to do something and contribute," Pena said. "We've been playing some close games, and have faced some pretty good pitching. And to come up with a big hit is always very satisfying."
Eric Hinske doubled after Pena's homer, moving to third on Dioner Navarro's single. Gabe Gross grounded into a double play to score Hinske and give the Rays a 3-2 lead they would hold.
"I don't think we're playing that great, honestly ... but we go 4-3 on the road trip, stay in first place," Percival said. "I actually think we gained ground. So you just have to do that and get back home where we play real well. And hopefully we'll start clicking. Pena's swinging the bat a lot better now. Crawford's definitely swinging better. And I think it's just going to start multiplying in runs."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.