ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays are beyond doing things easy. Now it's just a matter of getting them done.
Thursday, it was another tense, one-run win over the Blue Jays, 3-2.
Another step toward the postseason with their 81st win, a now almost-forgotten milestone marking their first nonlosing season.
And another typical-but-tremendous team effort, starting with an all-out diving catch by leftfielder Eric Hinske on the game's first play, including another stellar start by Edwin Jackson and just-enough offense, and ending with a tag-team effort from the bullpen.
"I think we're starting to get it," manager Joe Maddon said. "It's a matter of when you put the team ahead of yourself personally, that's when teams win. And I know I'm seeing it. I'm living it. I'm right there with them. The group right now is putting the team ahead of themselves."
"You'd have to be crazy not to feel it," Jackson said. "It's not like every game we've just come out and blown people away. There's been a lot of good games, a lot of one-run games."
Knowing the Red Sox lost, the Rays jumped out early and hung on before another small Tropicana Field gathering of 14,039, improving to an AL-best-matching 25-15 in one-run games.
With 30 games to go, the Rays are 81-51 and have a 4½-game AL East lead over the Red Sox, and are 6½ ahead of the Twins for the final playoff spot. If the Rays split their remaining games, they would end up 96-66. The Sox would have to go 20-9 to surpass them, and the Twins (who played late at Oakland) 22-7.
The Rays managed 10 hits in the first 62/3 innings off their former batboy (and Pinellas Park product) Jesse Litsch but only three runs: a sac fly by Cliff Floyd after an Akinori Iwamura double and a B.J. Upton single in the first, a two-out homer by Floyd in the third, and a two-strike homer by Willy Aybar in the sixth.
Jackson, featuring a fastball that was consistently 95 mph with exceptional movement, won for the sixth time in his last seven starts, improving to 11-8. He was most impressive in the sixth, with the Rays up 2-0 and the Jays threatening with men on first and third, getting three outs on three consecutive pitches.
He took a shutout into the eighth and left after a leadoff double, having allowed six hits and the one run, which scored later, the 11th time in 26 starts he has allowed one or none.
Maddon, trying to preserve the bullpen, used three relievers to get the next three outs. Chad Bradford got one then gave up an infield single, Trever Miller got a big one by striking out Lyle Overbay, and Grant Balfour, after a double to Rod Barajas that made it 3-2, got the last one, striking out Jose Bautista.
Hinske's catch was huge, Maddon said, maybe the "biggest play of the game." Shawn Riggans threw out his first basestealer in 16 tries. Dan Wheeler converted his 10th save in 12 chances.
Riggans said that with a month left, "It's go time, pretty much now.''
Maddon just wants more of the same: "I'm really digging the way our guys are going about their business right now. There's nothing more I could ask, just keep doing what we're doing.''