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Jennings' walkoff hit lifts Rays over Marlins

ST. PETERSBURG — Evan Longoria said one reason why this year's Rays offense is the best they've had while he has been here is how deep, and "swarming," it is.

"You kind of get it from all angles," he said.

The Rays got it from nearly everyone Tuesday, with all but one starter getting a hit. But it was who had the biggest one, struggling centerfielder Desmond Jennings, that could mean the most, as his two-out opposite-field RBI single lifted Tampa Bay to a 7-6 walkoff win over the Marlins in front of 13,876 at Tropicana Field.

"That's just outstanding to see that," manager Joe Maddon said. "Just a beautiful piece of hitting."

Maddon had moved Jennings from the leadoff spot to seventh two days earlier to get him to relax and "hit his pitch." And with two outs and the go-ahead run on second in the ninth, Jennings did exactly that, staying with a sinker from ex-Rays reliever Chad Qualls and lining it into right for his third hit, sparking a celebration on the field and in the clubhouse, where he lit the Captain Morgan lamp as player of the game.

"That was pretty cool," Jennings said with a smile. "I hadn't did it all year."

Jennings said the Rays (27-24), who won their third straight, "never quit," rallying from an early four-run deficit then tying it again with one run in the eighth on the second RBI single of the game by shortstop Yunel Escobar. The Rays 6-7-8-9 hitters were 11-for-17 with four doubles and five RBIs and have hit .378 over the past five games.

"They were fabulous," Maddon said. "It's been fun to watch."

The Rays bailed out right-hander Jeremy Hellickson, who was off again, allowing five runs in just 51/3 innings, and finished May with a 6.69 ERA.

Familiar faces did the damage against Hellickson, with ex-Ray Justin Ruggiano picking up an RBI single, former Rays second-round pick Derek Dietrich an RBI triple and East Lake High product Chris Coghlan a homer and RBI triple.

"Not crispy at all," Maddon said of Hellickson. "Not sharp with anything. He just wasn't as good as he normally is."

But the Rays bounced back, with everyone getting in on the act. Kelly Johnson, the hero Monday with two homers and six RBIs, made a sliding catch in the first and hit an RBI double in the third. Catcher Jose Lobaton had two hits, including an infield single and the tying two-run double in the sixth.

The bullpen, which has allowed just one run in 82/3 innings the past two games, had to carry the load and will get another arm today, with the Rays optioning rookie starter Jake Odorizzi to make room.

Veteran Joel Peralta, appearing in his fourth straight game and AL-most 28th overall, gave up a run in the eighth, but Escobar tied it back up in the bottom half, setting up Jennings' heroics from the seventh spot in the ninth.

Maddon said Jennings will stay there — for now.

"I remember Joe did it last year in the middle of the season," Jennings said. "It always seems to work."

Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith@tampabay.com.

Jennings' walkoff hit lifts Rays over Marlins 05/28/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 29, 2013 4:34pm]
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