KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Rays didn't care how anything looked Friday night except for the final score in a messy 5-3 win over the Royals.
Well that, and the AL East standings, as they reopened a one-game lead over the Red Sox, who lost 1-0 to the rolling and now-reinforced Yankees, who stayed three back.
So forget the ridiculously unproductive night at the plate, where the Rays went 2-for-13 with runners in scoring position and left 10 men on. The ongoing slumps of B.J. Upton (.210 since June 15) and Carl Crawford (.127 since July 8). The sloppy relief effort by J.P. Howell, who twice put the lead at risk. Or even the ninth-inning drama of Troy Percival giving up a two-out homer.
This was about what the Rays (60-42) did right, which was end a seven-game road losing streak dating to June 29 in Pittsburgh, improve to 5-3 since the break and bolster their lead as their division rivals battled in Boston.
"Any win is beautiful," Howell said. "It's a beautiful win. We don't care at this point. We're trying to get in a good rhythm. Ugly or pretty, it could be the start of something. So that's what we're hoping for."
The offense was again an issue, scratching out three runs while wasting repeated chances before Carlos Pena's two-run homer in the ninth. But the pitching was pretty good, starting with Edwin Jackson, who earned his career-high sixth win. And while Howell struggled, Grant Balfour, Dan Wheeler and Percival got the outs they needed.
"The pitching pretty much got that done for us tonight," manager Joe Maddon said.
Jackson was dominant early, using primarily his fastball to take a no-hitter into the fifth, allowing only two baserunners (on a walk and a strike three passed ball), with both erased on double plays.
"I don't think it was anything I hadn't had all year, it was nothing exceptional," Jackson said. "I was just trying to be aggressive."
He got the first two out in the fifth before allowing a homer to Billy Butler, but when he started the sixth with a homer by John Buck and a five-pitch walk to No. 9 hitter Mitch Maier, Maddon decided he'd seen enough, even though Jackson had thrown only 74 pitches.
"It wasn't so much a lack of confidence in him, as much as the confidence in the bullpen," Maddon said.
Jackson was surprised but said: "He's the manager, and my job is to do what I'm asked to do. He felt I needed to come out of the game, so who am I to question?"
Offense continues to be a mystery, as the Rays didn't exactly bully their way to their first three runs.
The first was the product of an infield single, two groundouts and an actual clutch two-out hit by Evan Longoria. The second the result of a double by Upton, just his second extra-base hit in 11 games, and a pair of errors. The third required the speed of catcher Dioner Navarro, who smacked a leadoff double then tagged up from third and beat the throw from strong-armed Jose Guillen.
"Offensively, I'm good with the at-bats," Maddon said. "The guys are focused, the at-bats are good, it's just not happening right now. But it's going to."