ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays were first able to exhale and relax in the fourth inning Wednesday when they broke through and scored an honest-to-goodness run. Four actually.
Then a spectacular leaping, diving — heck, flying — catch by rookie dervish rightfielder Kevin Kiermaier the next inning allowed them to smile.
And after a seven-out save by deposed closer Grant Balfour sealed the 6-3 win over the Cardinals, they launched into a full celebration.
"Outstanding," manager Joe Maddon said. "All of it."
The victory was much needed, just their second in their past 16 games, improving their major-league-worst record to 25-42.
More because they had been shut out in their past three games and 28 innings, then posted three more zeroes Wednesday, for a team-record 31 and counting, when they finally broke through.
Down 3-0, they had two on — after James Loney rolled a ball down third and Ben Zobrist blooped a single — and two outs, and a full count if you are documenting for historical purposes, when Matt Joyce singled sharply to center, scoring both, with help from centerfielder Peter Bourjos misplaying the ball.
"Obviously that's a great feeling to come through and really kick-start the party," Joyce said.
Even better, because he had tweeted a series of inspirational quotes late Tuesday, including one from Dr. Seuss about dealing with troubles, that read in part: "But I've bought a big bat. I'm all ready you see. Now my troubles are going to have troubles with me!"
After two walks loaded the bases, they got two more when Jennings singled to left-center, and their first lead since Saturday as well.
"You know, of course, you're going to (score), but we needed that," Maddon said. "The guys needed that. You could see them relax immediately."
Plus, Maddon said, it should lead to more.
"I want to believe you're going to see some contagion working in the other direction," he said.
The 4-3 lead was immediately in peril as Brad Boxberger, the first of four relievers after starter Erik Bedard lasted only four, loaded the bases with two outs.
But that's when Kiermaier raced to the rescue, with a catch to rob Bourjos that you will see replayed plenty on TV and the web.
"A Superman play," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said.
First, Kiermaier had to overcome his own adjustment, having shifted a couple of feet toward the rightfield line since it was an 0-and-2 count.
Then he had to battle the tricky Tropicana Field lights, losing the ball momentarily.
Then, there was gravity as he took off in full flight.
"I had to make that catch," Kiermaier said. "I knew I was going to have to lay out for it, and I saw it just in time to know where it was going to be. I made a dive, and I was just happy to see the ball get in the glove. It was a crazy play."
Actually, it was more than that.
"That's the play of the game," Maddon said. "That's pretty much what permitted us to win that game."
That, and a few little things called runs.
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]mpabay.com. Follow him on Twitter at @TBTimes_Rays.