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John Jaso stars as Tampa Bay Rays bail out David Price, beat Houston Astros

HOUSTON — This is how good things have been going for the Rays.

Manager Joe Maddon decided to rest All-Star third baseman Evan Longoria for the first time this season Sunday against the Astros. He put rookie catcher John Jaso in the third spot in the order and started Hank Blalock at third.

All Jaso did was hit the tying homer and a two-run triple, with his career-high four RBIs sparking the Rays to a 10-6, come-from-behind win over Houston at Minute Maid Park.

Blalock also hit a solo homer as the Rays, who have a season-high six-game lead over the Yankees in the AL East, overcame a four-run deficit and a rough start by David Price.

But it was Jaso, who made several big blocks and threw out Hunter Pence trying to steal second in the seventh inning to cut short a rally, who stole the show.

Jaso "was wonderful," Maddon said. "He works every at-bat every time. … He threw well (Sunday), he blocked well. … I don't know how many at-bats he's had to this point, maybe two to this point have not been his normal at-bat.

"I really love watching him hit."

The best-in-the-majors Rays (32-12) won four of five on the trip to improve to an astounding 19-5 on the road and come home to face the Red Sox for a three-game series starting tonight.

Ben Zobrist said Sunday's win was a confidence-builder, as the Rays — carried a lot by their starting pitchers this season — found a way to pick up Price.

Price, who leads the American League with seven wins, gave up a season-high five runs in a five-inning outing he called "brutal." He labored through a 41-pitch first in which Pedro Feliz hit a three-run homer.

Jaso said Price looked phenomenal warming up in the bullpen, "the best stuff I've ever seen." But Price was pulled for a pinch-hitter after a season-low 88 pitches.

"I just didn't throw very well, and they made me pay," Price said. "Today was about the offense."

Zobrist and Houston native Carl Crawford, the team's hottest hitters in May, sparked the lineup. Zobrist picked up three hits, including a solo homer in the third, and Crawford had two hits with three steals.

Then came Jaso, who tied it in the fifth with a two-run homer to rightfield. He said Astros starter Bud Norris had gotten him to pop out in the third with the same up-and-in fastball. This time, he was ready.

"As a catcher, I probably would have called the same pitch," Jaso said. "It's just how baseball works sometimes."

The Rays tagged reliever Brian Moehler for the two go-ahead runs in the sixth, and Jaso added the two-run triple in the eighth thanks to another great at-bat against Chris Sampson.

Sampson "made some pretty close pitches I was taking with two strikes," Jaso said. "I'm glad the umpire hung in there and saw it my way."

A lot has been going Jaso's way as he has reached base in 11 of his past 15 plate appearances. Dan Wheeler, one of five Rays relievers to combine to give up just one run over the final four innings, credited Jaso's defense, both in blocking pitches in the dirt and throwing out Pence trying to steal in the seventh, preventing the tying run from getting into scoring position.

Said Wheeler: "You just can't say enough good things about (Jaso)."

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

John Jaso stars as Tampa Bay Rays bail out David Price, beat Houston Astros 05/23/10 [Last modified: Monday, May 24, 2010 7:22am]
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