ST. PETERSBURG — Troy Percival has jokingly called Cliff Floyd "Big Brown" after the Triple-Crown caliber thoroughbred.
"Cracked hoof," Percival quipped.
Floyd, 35 and coming off early season knee surgery, said he simply picks his spots to steal bases.
The 6-foot-4, 240-pound designated hitter picked the perfect time Friday. Floyd stole his first base in nearly two years to spark a two-run second and the Rays' 7-3 victory over the Marlins.
"It was one of those inspirational moments for the entire team," manager Joe Maddon said. "They played behind him."
With a crowd of 19,312 standing behind him, Percival — fresh off the disabled list — pitched a perfect ninth to hand Tampa Bay a much-needed win to start a nine-game interleague homestand.
The victory, their 21st in their past 24 at home, brought the Rays (39-28) to within 11/2 games of Boston in the AL East and helped them dust off their recent drama-filled road trip.
"We have to learn how to win on the road and keep our composure," Floyd said. "When you come home and you get nine games at home, you want to take full advantage.
"We have to bear down and make sure to do the things on the field instead of worrying about a couple of fistfights off the field."
The Rays did, in fact, get back to the staples that made them successful early this season: strong pitching, stingy defense and smart baserunning (three steals for a major-league high of 75).
Andy Sonnanstine, who suffered from a three-day virus during the trip, felt "night and day" better, picking up his team-high seventh win (first since May 16).
He overcame a rough start, giving up three hits to start the game (including a triple by Hanley Ramirez). After that, Sonnanstine settled down, improving his location to throw three scoreless frames before getting pulled in the sixth.
"I felt like in the first inning a lot of my pitches were funneling over the middle of home plate," Sonnanstine said. "I really started to focus in and hit the corners the rest of the game."
The Rays' offense gave him a lift, too. Eric Hinske, filling in for suspended Carl Crawford in leftfield, delivered a two-run double in the first.
Then Floyd, making his first start in five games, walked before stealing second and moving to third on a wild throw by catcher Matt Treanor. Gabe Gross knocked him in with a double off Ryan Tucker (1-1).
With the Rays clinging to a 5-3 lead in the sixth, the Rays handed the ball to reliable long reliever J.P. Howell. The lefty continued his string of good outings by escaping a first-and-third, one-out jam.
"Spectacular," Maddon said of Howell. "I can't say enough about it."
The same goes for the defense, with Akinori Iwamura making one of his best plays of the year — a diving stab up the middle before throwing out speedy Alfredo Amezaga at first.
In the end, it was Floyd's first steal since July 14, 2006, which was reminiscent of earlier in his career when he put together two 20-homer, 20-steal seasons.
Quipped Floyd: "I guess I'll take a 10-10."
Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith @sptimes.com