ST. PETERSBURG — The "streak" may be over.
But after the Rays' bats finally came alive in an 8-5 win over the Angels on Sunday afternoon at Tropicana Field to complete a third straight home sweep, the once-floundering franchise finds itself in uncharted territory.
The second-place Rays (21-16), who have won 15 of their past 22 games, are now looking down in the AL East standings at the Yankees (19-19), who arrive today for a four-game series. And in another twist, Tampa Bay players find themselves trying to somewhat temper the growing glow surrounding their club-record start that has them five games over .500 for the first time.
Though veteran Cliff Floyd said "you can't get caught up in the hype," especially this early in the season, longtime Rays such as leftfielder Carl Crawford admit there's a "different feeling" brewing right now.
"We feel like we're gonna win every game right now," Crawford said. "We know that's not possible. But at least we're confident enough that when the time comes, we feel like we're gonna make it happen."
Crawford made it happen Sunday, racking up three hits, including a go-ahead three-run homer in the sixth. He and the rest of the Rays bats, which produced 15 hits, and the bullpen finished off one of the American League's best teams after starter Andy Sonnanstine (five innings, five runs) struggled with his command, snapping the starting pitchers' scoreless streak at 25 innings during a three-run third.
Long reliever J.P. Howell pitched three scoreless innings to earn his second win in four days. That set it up for Troy Percival, who picked up his ninth save in 10 tries as many in the crowd of 13,010 stood on their feet, brooms in hand, chanting, "Sweep! Sweep!"
With the Rays now boasting sweeps over Boston, Toronto and the Angels, others are starting to take notice.
"There is nothing they did that surprised us; they're a team that has a lot of positive things happening," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "Both a lot of young talent, some good arms, and what (Percival) is doing over there is remarkable. They've got a lot of good things going and I think we saw it firsthand."
And the Angels (22-17) saw it from the get-go, as the Rays tagged undefeated starter Ervin Santana for three runs in a four-hit first inning and prevented him from becoming the AL's first seven-game winner. Both Akinori Iwamura and B.J. Upton picked up three hits apiece, with Floyd adding two RBI singles in his first start since coming off the disabled list.
The defense continued to shine, other than a miscommunication between leftfielder Crawford and shortstop Jason Bartlett in the ninth. Evan Longoria made strong plays at third, and rightfielder Gabe Gross threw out Vladimir Guerrero at the plate with a one-hop strike in the Angels' two-run fifth. Though Torii Hunter's RBI triple that inning gave the Angels a 5-4 lead, it didn't last long.
"We're just trying to pick each other up; that's what most championship teams have in common," Howell said. "We don't want to get too far ahead of ourselves. But that's our goal, obviously, like everyone else."
Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com.