NEW YORK — There have been signs during the Rays' recent run — some obvious, such as a resurgent offense; some intangible, such as rekindled confidence — reminiscent of their typical style of play.
As they won a season-high fifth straight game with a sweep-completing 6-3 win over the Yankees on Wednesday, another familiar theme surfaced.
"We're getting a different 'bus driver' on a daily basis," manager Joe Maddon said. "That's kind of neat. That's what we need. That's who we have to be.
"We're not necessarily built around one guy, we're built as a group. Everybody has to do their job."
That meant Sean Rodriguez, playing for just the second time in eight days, delivering the key hit, a mammoth two-run homer that broke a tie at 3 in the sixth inning as part of his three-RBI day. And Brad Boxberger, the fourth to pitch in relief of starter Jake Odorizzi, getting the final three outs, the fifth different Ray to log a save.
"That's typically what you need for a championship team," Rodriguez said. "It can't be just one, two, three guys. You've got to do it collectively as a group."
There are no championships in sight, but the Rays (38-49) have been playing considerably better, winning seven of their past eight and 14 of 21 to shed the majors' worst record and get within single digits of the American League East-leading Blue Jays.
"I've said it all along, and I know I tend to say things, but I've felt we absolutely are going to get back into this thing,"' Maddon said. "You have to go ahead and do it, and we're still not there yet, but it's getting better."
Eyeing just their second series sweep of the season, the Rays got an improved but still not overly sharp start from Odorizzi, who allowed the Yankees single runs in the first (Brett Gardner home run), third (Brian McCann homer) and fourth (Gardner ground ball single).
But each time, the Rays answered back. They got one in the third, Kevin Kiermaier coming around and scoring on a passed ball. Another in the fourth, when Logan Forsythe, hitting a sizzling .455 (20-for-44) the past two weeks, doubled and Rodriguez singled him in. And they tied it in the fifth when Brandon Guyer singled in Desmond Jennings, though Ben Zobrist was thrown out at the plate, one of four outs the Rays made on the bases.
That left it 3-3 in the sixth when Forsythe singled and the Yankees pulled lefty starter Vidal Nuno and brought in righty Shawn Kelley to face Rodriguez.
Maddon could have pinch-hit lefties Matt Joyce or Cole Figueroa. But he didn't want to mess with the defense, as Rodriguez started at short (for the first time since last July) with Zobrist as the DH, and Maddon wanted to see what Rodriguez would do.
"He's hit home runs here in the past," Maddon said. "I'm by no means intelligent or a genius there, I just thought, 'It's early in the game, I've seen him do it before.' I wasn't expecting that."
That was a blast estimated at 445 feet, longest by a Ray this season.
"My goodness," Maddon said. "That ball is tonked right there."
Rodriguez was less colorful: "I hit it clean."
The homer was Rodriguez's eighth on the season, second most on the team though he has played in only 50 of the 87 games. Coming through when it mattered most made it mean even more.
"A lot," he said. "It feels really good. … Just being able to contribute, that's essentially what you're trying to do every game, just find a way to contribute to the win."
Lately, that has been going around.
Contact Marc Topkin at [email protected]m. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.