ST. PETERSBURG — Kelly Johnson's second three-run homer of the afternoon made sure all the Rays could head out and enjoy what was left of Memorial Day on Monday after the 10-6 victory over the Marlins.
Because until then, it looked like the postgame refreshments — for manager Joe Maddon, anyway — were going to include the for-now still-unopened bottle sitting on the corner of his desk of Pepto-Bismol Max.
What was a 6-0 Rays lead in the second inning had become a 7-6 gut-wrencher by the fifth thanks to struggling rookie starter Jake Odorizzi. And what looked to be an easy holiday win became anything but, at least until Johnson provided the cushion in the eighth inning, becoming the first Rays player to hit two three-run (or more) homers in the same game.
"We keep making this way more dramatic than it needs to be," Maddon said. "Our pitching is still not where we want it to be. I still believe it's going to get there. Fortunately the offense has performed at a much higher level this year. Obviously that really permits us to absorb some of these moments."
As much as Evan Longoria and his MVP numbers, and the resurrection of James Loney, the contributions of Johnson are a major reason the Rays are still hanging around in the American League East at 26-24 despite an unforeseen team ERA of 4.44 that ranks in bottom third of the league.
Johnson, signed off the free-agent clearance rack in February for $2.45 million, leads the Rays with 10 homers and 32 RBIs, putting him on a pace, by the way, for 32 and 104.
"I feel good and I feel confident," Johnson said. "That's important to me."
Johnson's first blast, before a Trop gathering of 13,025, capped a six-run second inning for the Rays and pretty much ruined the homecoming for Marlins starter Jose Fernandez, the Tampa-schooled 20-year-old phenom.
"It was good to be back home," Fernandez said. "I'm just sorry it didn't come out the way it should be."
Johnson's second home run came with one out in the eighth, providing a deep breath for the Rays, who, as you may have heard, have had a dash of trouble finishing off games.
"That second one totally took the heat off," Maddon said.
Odorizzi, making his second start in place of injured David Price, created it, giving up three runs in the fourth then loading the bases in the fifth, leading to his exit.
"He looked like he was going to be pretty good, and then all of a sudden it just kept getting away," Maddon said. "This kid has a great future, there's no question. It's just that he got lost in the moment there a little bit."
Maddon was forced to piece together five innings out of the troubled bullpen. When Josh Lueke had trouble — again — Maddon needed Jake McGee to go more than one inning, and McGee ended up going two, and getting the victory, with Joel Peralta, in his AL-leading 27th appearance, and Fernando Rodney finishing.
Johnson said McGee deserved a share of the credit. "This win," Johnson said, "is as much his as the offense."
Maybe so this time. But the way the pitching has been, they need every run they've been getting during a six-week run as one of the majors' top-scoring teams.
"I do have faith the pitching is going to come back to us," Maddon said. "And it would be kind of nice to have the hitters maintain, and not at some point all of a sudden the pitchers have to pick up the offense."
That may be asking too much.
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]