ST. PETERSBURG — The talk in the Rays' clubhouse after Saturday's 6-5 win over the Marlins was about the intensity with which they played from first pitch to last.
The defense was tremendous, with Evan Longoria, Carl Crawford and Ben Zobrist making key plays.
The relief work was fantastic, as Grant Balfour and Joaquin Benoit did the dirty work and Rafael Soriano finished.
And the offense was persistent, scoring early and adding on late as the Rays improved their major-league best record to 40-22 and hung on to a one-game American League East lead over the Yankees before a concert night crowd of 29,963.
"I like our effort," manager Joe Maddon said.
"If you weren't entertained by watching that baseball game, you cannot be entertained by watching baseball, period."
But the man in the spotlight was the one who insists the key to success is not trying too hard.
Carlos Peña homered for a team-record sixth straight game — the first major-leaguer to do so since Frank Thomas for Oakland in September 2006 — and moved to within two of the major-league record.
"That's really cool," Peña said.
That's the same Carlos Peña who was struggling so badly a week ago, the headlines were about whether he should be benched. He has hit an MLB-high seven homers over his past six games and 15 overall, tied for fifth in the majors.
"I'm executing," Peña said. "I'm trusting myself a little more, trusting my plan and really seeing the ball, focusing on seeing the ball and trusting that the right swing will come out when my eyes recognize the pitch I want.
"So there's a little bit of letting go there that is not easily accomplished. But I think I've been able to do so well over the last week."
Having Peña hitting again has been a key for the offense, which has averaged 7.5 runs over those six games.
Saturday, the Rays needed everything they could get.
After taking a 5-1 lead through two innings with Crawford and Sean Rodriguez also homering, the Rays had to battle to hang on as starting pitcher Matt Garza, in Maddon's words, "struggled through the whole event."
"What are you going to do?" said Garza, who nonetheless improved to 7-4.
Balfour, with two innings, and Benoit and Soriano, who tied Al Reyes' 2007 team record of 16 straight saves to start a season, finished what Garza started.
And the defense made sure it stayed that way.
Zobrist was first, catching Jorge Cantu's fly ball as he crossed the foul line in medium depth rightfield and firing a one-hop laser to the plate to easily nail Hanley Ramirez to end the third.
Crawford was next, chasing down Cody Ross' fourth-inning base hit to left-center and throwing Ross out as he tried to stretch it into a double for his AL-leading seventh outfield assist.
Then Longoria brought the fans to their feet in the sixth by diving to his right to snag Mike Stanton's grounder down the third-base line (saving one run) and from his knees throwing a three-hopper across the infield for the out.
"Everybody's going to look at that game and look at a whole bunch of different things," Maddon said.
"But I loved our defense. It was spectacular."