ST. LOUIS — Jake Odorizzi had plenty of reasons to be excited about starting Tuesday's game. And it showed as he gave up a home run to the first batter, walked the second and seemed fortunate to escape the opening frame allowing only one run.
But then it turned into a truly memorable night, as Odorizzi outpitched Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright (who ended up in a yelling match with Rays manager Joe Maddon) — and picked up his first professional RBI — as the Rays rolled to a season-high sixth straight win, 7-2.
"This was awesome,'' Odorizzi said. "This was phenomenal.''
Odorizzi had insisted he would not be nervous despite so many reasons to be — pitching in front of hundreds of friends and relatives who made the 30-some-mile drive from his hometown of Highland, Ill., pitching for the first time at the stadium he often came to as a kid dreaming of one day getting to play, pitching against the team and some of the players he grew up rooting for, including Wainwright.
"I definitely had a lot of nerves,'' Odorizzi said. "I was nervous, I was excited, I was anything you can be.''
Odorizzi said the turning point actually came when Jose Molina threw out Kolten Wong, the No. 2 batter who had walked. That enabled Odorizzi to calm down, and after the first he cruised into the sixth, allowing just a solo homer by Matt Holliday and striking out eight.
Meanwhile Wainwright, the majors' ERA leader who was pitching for the first time since his All-Star Game start and accompanying Derek Jeter/"pipe shots" controversy, faltered, getting knocked out during an ugly fifth, making an error, walking three (one that forced in a run) and hitting a batter.
The win was the resurgent Rays' 15th in their past 19 games and 24th in 35 since a June 10 loss to the Cardinals and Wainwright at the Trop, which dropped them to a season-low 18 games under .500 at 24-42 and 15 games back in the American League East race.
Now they are 48-53 and started the day eight games behind the first-place Orioles, who played late, and 6½ behind the Mariners, also playing late, for the second wild-card spot.
"I was just really pleased with how well we played," manager Joe Maddon said.
Maddon was ejected in the third when he appeared to be disputing a called strike three on Ben Zobrist, but there was apparently more to it.
Maddon said that after he yelled at the umpire for giving Wainwright too wide of a strike zone, Wainwright started yelling at him in the dugout — which he never had happen before. "If anyone ever yells in our dugout, you just can't do that,'' Maddon said. And when Maddon yelled back at Wainwright, the ump thought it was directed at him and tossed Maddon.
"One of classic cases of misunderstanding,'' Maddon said.
But Wainwright said he wasn't yelling at Maddon, just that he felt there were several times he was ready to pitch but Maddon was had been yelling "for a good while" at home plate umpire Mark Ripperger, "so I looked over and all I said was, "That's enough'' at Maddon.
Wainwright admitted that was the first time he had ever done so, but downplayed the incident.
"This things are interpreted differently, aren't they?'' Wainwright said. "There's no controversy here. Please don't tweet something crazy out.''
Odorizzi certainly seemed unsettled as he gave up a home run on his fifth pitch of the game to Matt Carpenter and walked Wong. Even after Wong was caught stealing, Odorizzi gave up another rocket shot to Holliday that centerfielder Desmond Jennings ran down.
But Odorizzi said he actually was more nervous batting — for the first time since a high school championship game in 2008 — in the second with James Loney, who with two hits extended his career regular-season numbers against Wainwright to 14-for-30, on third and Jose Molina on first, and getting down a bunt to score the tying run.
A bigger surprise? The Rays knocking Wainwright out in the fifth by scoring five runs. Matt Joyce and Yunel Escobar each had a big hit, though Wainwright contributed, walking three (one that forced in a run), making an error and hitting Evan Longoria, who later homered to move past Carl Crawford as the Rays' all-time RBI leader at 593.
Kevin Kiermaier, batting ninth as Maddon unconventionally slotted Odorizzi eighth, got it started with a walk. Zobrist reached with one out when Wainwright couldn't handle his comebacker.
Joyce made it count, lacing an outside pitch down the third-base line for an RBI double. Wainwright then hit Longoria to load the bases and walked Loney to make it 3-1. Escobar delivered next, a shot that hopped the wall in the rightfield corner to score two, and an RBI groundout by Jose Molina made it 6-1. When Wainwright walked Odorizzi, his night was done.
"Up and down that inning, we scored up five points,'' Maddon said. "A lot of good stuff went on.''
The stuff with Wainwright was quite unusual, Maddon said.
"I don't know, I think that may be the first time,'' he said. "I've had words with other players on the other team in the past, but I think that might have been my first once since the (semi-pro) Boulder Collegians in 1975.''
He said he had no choice but to respond: "Umpires yelling in your dugout, other players yelling in your dugout you never stand for that.''
And, actually, Maddon said, he kind of liked it. "I loved it,'' he said. "I thought it was tremendous. And I'm all about that. It was great. I'm not going indict his professionalism. I just really enjoyed the exchange.''
Contact Marc Topkin at email@example.com. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.