ST. PETERSBURG — Even through a dismal stretch that dropped them to the bottom of the standings, the Rays remained insistent that their ugly numbers would eventually balance out.
With Sunday's 5-2 victory over Houston, those numbers look like they're starting to add up to wins.
Not only did the Rays (31-46) earn their seventh victory in their past 11 games and take the series over the Astros; they did so despite giving up a home run on the game's first pitch and losing two replay challenges — including Desmond Jennings' failed attempt at stealing home — while starting to resemble a team that began the year with World Series aspirations.
"I don't want to speak too soon …" Evan Longoria said. "Whatever it is, we've got to try to stick to that."
The win in front of a Tropicana Field crowd of 13,841 marked the second straight game in which good pitching, hitting and defense finally clicked, despite having several opportunities to unravel.
Houston's Dexter Fowler took the game's first pitch 386 feet to leftfield for his second leadoff home run in eight days against the Rays. Then Longoria missed a tag on Jonathan Villar's replay-aided steal of third, and MLB hits leader Jose Altuve's RBI single gave Houston a 2-1 lead in the third.
But the Rays' pitchers found success after that. Against his former team, starter Erik Bedard had six of his eight strikeouts after that steal, thanks in part to rediscovering the curveball manager Joe Maddon adores.
"Last game, I kind of forgot about it," Bedard said.
The Rays' defense tightened up, too, turning just its second double play in the past 18 games, and the offense built on Saturday night's eight-run performance.
Jennings tried to add to the offense when he tried to steal home off lefty Dallas Keuchel but was called out — with Longoria at the plate.
"I saw an opportunity to get a run," Jennings said, "and I went for it."
The runs finally came in the sixth inning, when Yunel Escobar knocked a go-ahead, two-run single down the first-base line. Sean Rodriguez also drove in two runs for a team that has started to get timely hitting.
After going 2-for-24 with runners in scoring position over the previous three games, the Rays have nine hits in those situations in the past two days.
"I'd like to see it become a trend," Maddon said.
So would the rest of the Rays, who remain at the bottom of the league and need to go 19-4 to reach Maddon's short-term goal of climbing to .500 by the 100th game. But three wins over Houston in four games is a start.
"We won," said Longoria, who had an RBI and matched a season high with three hits. "That's the bottom line, and that's really at this point all I care about."
Times staff writer Matt Baker can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @MBakerTBTimes.