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08/06/08 6:32 PM ET

Rays walk off on Pena's three-run shot

Late-inning drama and comebacks nothing new to Tampa Bay

ST. PETERSBURG -- Just three outs from their first home series loss in 45 days, the American League East-leading Rays relied on what has been a tried-and-true formula this season: the walk-off.

And in what is becoming typical Tampa Bay fashion, Wednesday afternoon's win defied odds and expectation, as the club came away with a 10-7 win over the Indians despite injury, adversity and history.

Down three runs in the bottom of the ninth inning, Jason Bartlett -- playing with a taped right index finger and still not able to throw the ball -- laced a double into left field. Eric Hinske followed suit, and the Rays' residential walk-off king, Gabe Gross, sent Edward Mujica's 2-2 pitch deep beyond the right-field wall to even the score at 7.

Then, after Akinori Iwamura singled and Ben Zobrist walked, Carlos Pena's first-pitch three-run homer off Masa Kobayashi put the finishing touches on a six-run ninth inning, landing the Rays their ninth walk-off win this year.

"Probably the most exciting win I've been involved with here," third-year manager Joe Maddon said. "Just the way the guys came after it ... if we take that attitude into every game, every night, we will have a really solid chance to play in October. And that's what it's all about."

With the win, the Rays are guaranteed to at least maintain their current three-game lead on the rest of the AL East. But the team's effort in its first series win over Cleveland -- dating back to Sept. 27-29, 2005 -- was what had Maddon really smiling.

"It is just one game. However, it's the fact that it's a win and the way that we won it," Maddon said. "I like to believe this is the kind of game that we can build on."

With a lineup devoid of Carl Crawford in left field and Bartlett at shortstop, the Rays' bench players delivered the goods and helped take the pressure off a struggling appearance by starter Scott Kazmir.

"You've got to have depth," Gross said. "And you've got to have guys to fill holes when you need them and not lose -- can't say you can't lose anything, because your frontline guys are your frontline guys -- but don't lose much. And they can come in and get the job done."

Without Crawford and B.J. Upton, who was benched because he didn't run out a grounder on Tuesday, in the outfield, Gross and Hinske were granted a rare start against lefty Jeremy Sowers. Recently recalled Zobrist was also utilized in center field and went 1-for-4 with a walk and three runs scored.

"You can label players all you want," Pena said. "This guy's a bench player, this guy's a regular, but on this team, everyone's the same.

"I mean, you can say Gabe Gross is just a spot starter here in right field, but how many times has he come through for us? So the bottom line is, he's been a hero for us. ... There's so many positive points in this ballclub and everybody's doing a little bit. So it's awesome to see."

For the Rays, getting a win while managing to pick up the team ace, Kazmir, proves that they are a good team. But recording the "W" behind a struggling pitcher and without several key starters?

Those are the teams that play in October.

"This year, I think, has been growth moments," Gross said. "This one again just reinforced the fact that this game is nine innings. And if you don't quit and you don't quit and you don't quit, you know, most of the time when you are down by three in the ninth, you are going to lose. But you don't quit every time; once in a while you can come back and do something. And that's what we did today.

"Hopefully, this will be the start of a lot of big things. We go down into the last part of August and even in September, each win is going to be big."

Lost in the game's late-inning excitement was a disappointing outing for Kazmir, who gave up a leadoff home run to Franklin Gutierrez and never seemed to establish a rhythm.

Although he battled through the first four frames with only a pair of runs, the wheels came off in the fifth, and for the second consecutive start, Kazmir was unable to make it out of the fifth inning, allowing a season-high nine hits and five earned runs.

"You can see him fighting himself on the mound," Maddon said.

While the Rays skipper noted that he wasn't overly concerned yet, he knows the team will need the 24-year-old Kazmir to return to his dominant self.

"We've got to keep moving [him] forward," Maddon said. "[We need to] get him back to what we we're used to seeing."

Kazmir said the root of his problems is his mechanics on the mound. It is a frustrating fact given that his warmup sessions have been going smoothly, and he has been unable to bring the same fluid motion to the hill.

"I'm striding way too long [off the mound] in the game," Kazmir said.

But on Wednesday, the southpaw put his frustrations to the side and instead commended the offensive effort.

"It seems like if you have our team in the game in the eighth, ninth inning, we will find a way to win the game," he said. "It's what we've been doing all year."

Brittany Ghiroli is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.