ST. PETERSBURG — It became obvious early that the Rays for the second straight game were not going to take what the Diamondbacks were giving them and walk away with a victory.
Instead, they turned Saturday afternoon to something novel and, at least recently, rare: an actual clutch hit. The two-run sixth-inning single by Sean Rodriguez, combined with a fine performance by David Price, who became the American League's first 11-game winner, left the Rays with a sigh-of-relief 5-3 victory that kept them in second place in the AL East.
"Double-exhale," manager Joe Maddon said.
"We needed that," Price said. "(Friday) was rough, we all know that. We've had a rough last two-three weeks. We'll take all we can; hopefully this will get it started."
Friday, the Rays drew eight walks — plus had a hit batter and another reach on an error — but couldn't manage a run, or even a hit, off ex-mate Edwin Jackson.
Saturday started to play out similarly, as they'd drawn nine walks (and had another hit) four batters into the sixth inning and had only one run — on a sac fly by Jason Bartlett — to show for it.
"It is so equal, I think, to root canal in some ways whereas it is just painful," Maddon said. "You get in all these moments, all these potential situations, and they just go away.
"They didn't go away through lack of effort; they didn't go away because we weren't grinding through them. We're just going through some tough moments right now. I talk about continually to keep pushing back at this negative momentum, and I think we did that."
The score was tied at 1 at the time, but Rodriguez's crisp swing at reliever Sam Demel's first-pitch fastball sent a screamer down the leftfield line that was the release they needed.
Two scored on his hit, and another when Evan Longoria followed with a single (matching their total hits with runners in scoring position for the previous four games). They added a fifth run in the seventh.
So what, in contrast to dental work, did Rodriguez's hit feel like to Maddon?
"I can't really say," he grinned.
Rodriguez got a good scouting report on Demel from hitting coach Derek Shelton and was looking for a fastball early in the count, figuring with the bases loaded the D'backs wanted to get him out before facing Longoria.
"I just wanted to get that runner from third in whether it be a fly ball, ground ball … something to definitely get that run in and get some momentum going," Rodriguez. "Definitely it was big."
Price came up big, too, striking out 11 for the second time in his 39-start big-league career while allowing only two runs on seven hits, lowering his ERA to 2.44, second best in the AL.
After the Rays drew 11 walks total Saturday and 19 for the two games, Maddon was trying to see good despite the overall lack of production (4-for-22 with runners in scoring position Friday-Saturday, 6-for-47 for the homestand). He praised their patience and dedication to the concepts of seeing a lot of pitches (314 in two games) and accepting their walks.
"Because if we do do that," he said, "you're going to see the big knocks start to show up again."
And wouldn't that be different?
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]