Friday, February 23, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Rays complete sweep of Padres

ST. PETERSBURG — When left-hander Jake McGee entered for the seventh inning Sunday, the Rays having just taken a one-run lead, outfielder Sean Rodriguez turned to starter Roberto Hernandez in the dugout.

"Here you go, man, this is your win," Rodriguez said.

Quipped Hernandez: "Hopefully we keep it."

"I said, 'No, no, no,' " Rodriguez recalled. "We're going to keep it."

Such doubt can be expected in a strange season where no Rays lead seems safe, but Rodriguez said it felt like they were getting "back to normal" during Sunday's 4-2, sweep-clinching win over the Padres in front of a Mothers Day crowd of 17,396 at Tropicana Field.

Tampa Bay (19-18) showed sparkling defense, an opportunistic offense and a shutdown bullpen in what outfielder Sam Fuld called a "blueprint" win. It was the Rays' season-high fifth straight victory and it moved them over .500 for the first time since April 6.

"I think everything is kind of clicking now," McGee said.

Considering how bad this 10-game homestand started for the Rays, who lost the first two games to Toronto, including blowing a seven-run lead, they have many reasons to feel good as they head into today's off day before opening a three-game series with the Red Sox on Tuesday at the Trop.

"It speaks to the quality of guys in the clubhouse to lose games like that and not really have it impact you on any kind of permanent basis," manager Joe Maddon said. "The hitting continues, the defense has been there. But now the pitching is going to start coming back to us. And then, heads up."

The defense was key Sunday. Fuld made a leaping catch at the top of the centerfield wall in the first, rightfielder Matt Joyce made an over-the-shoulder grab in the ninth, and shortstop Yunel Escobar a diving stop in between.

Fuld knew his would be a close play off the bat but said it was "fun" to rob Will Venable of extra bases.

Hernandez (2-4) had his second straight solid start, allowing two runs over six innings. But it wasn't until the rally for two runs in the bottom of the sixth that he was in line for the win.

DH Evan Longoria started the sixth with a double, and Rodriguez singled him in for the tying run. Escobar delivered the go-ahead run with an opposite-field double. With Jose Molina adding an earlier sacrifice fly, it was the bottom of the order that produced.

"Offensively we've been as good as we've ever been in the time that I've been here," Longoria said. "From top to bottom, we're getting production from a lot of different spots, which is a huge lift, and it's something that I think to be a top contending team, we have to have."

Maddon has said the Rays can't be that kind of team unless they can hold onto leads, and he was admittedly annoyed after Saturday's 8-7 walkoff win. But McGee, Joel Peralta and Fernando Rodney combined to shut the door Sunday, as the bullpen has not allowed an earned run over its last 13 2/3 innings.

"That's the way it's supposed to look," Maddon said. "All these guys are throwing the ball extremely well. And as they really get their confidence flowing through a couple successful outings, you're really going to see them take off."

 
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