HOUSTON — RF Steven Souza Jr. wasn't sure following an afternoon workout if he'd be able to play or not against the Astros on Thursday night, given lingering soreness in his bruised left foot that sidelined him the previous two days.
Buoyed by an MRI exam showing nothing that could be made worse, Souza decided to give it a go.
And the Rays were certainly glad he did.
Souza played a key role in the 5-3 win that was their third straight over the American League-best Astros and kept them within one-half game of the wild card-holding Royals at 57-53.
Plus, it allowed them to break even at 4-4 on the roadtrip that started so miserably in New York with three straight losses, two on walkoffs.
"Can't say enough about the way the team responded after three really tough days to start the trip to be able to come in here and find a way to win a series,'' manager Kevin Cash said. "It speaks volumes about the club.''
Souza homered to get them within one in the sixth — drawing boos for his slow trot from Astros fans apparently unaware of his injury — then laced a two-out two-run double in the seventh that put them ahead.
"I'm thankful I was as productive as I was,'' Souza said. "I couldn't have told you that was going to happen. When I found out it wasn't broken it was a good sign I was going to try and push through it.''
Cash said he felt pretty confident Souza was going to play based on their morning texts, but he also knew Souza wanted to see how the foot felt after taking batting practice and chasing some fly balls. So Cash joked that he made a point to avoid Souza him after the workout so he couldn't change his mind.
"That's why we miss him when he's not in the lineup,'' Cash said. "I know he banged his foot up but we need his bat. He balances us out, he gives us that right-hander in there, he thickens us up and challenges righties or lefties. And he came up with two huge hits tonight.''
Souza starred, but like most Rays wins it was a team effort, with RHP Brad Boxberger wand LF Corey Dickerson also playing key roles.
After LHP Blake Snell was pulled two batters into the fifth (after his 90th pitch), the Rays bullpen covered the final 15 outs. Boxberger worked two impressive innings, Sergio Romo one and the dominating Tommy Hunter (16 straight batters retired over his past five outings, 17th scoreless in his past 18) another before yielding to closer Alex Colome, who finished for his majors-most 33rd save.
With RHP Steve Cishek and LHP Dan Jennings unavailable, Boxberger said he knew to be ready, even for the fifth inning call.
He came in with two on and got a fly ball and a double-play grounder, then struck out the side in his second inning.
"I had an idea it might be sooner than later,'' Boxberger said, with strike-throwing the key to his success.
Dickerson had a big hand in the win as well, singling in their first run and scoring the third on an error on Evan Longoria's sharp grounder, but mostly for his running catch of a drive over his head in left with two on to end the seventh.
"Off the bat I thought it was a double off the wall,'' Cash said. "Just an amazing play.''
Explained Dickerson: "The whole time I was running I was trying to time it up (thinking) I'm going to have to jump and try to catch this ball. Luckily I covered enough ground where I didn't have to jump that high.''
As the Rays headed out for an early-morning arrival home and a game tonight against the contending Brewers, they felt pretty good about themselves.
Certainly better than last Thursday night, when the ground ball that rolled through the infield in the ninth inning turned what looked to be an inspiring win into a staggering walkoff loss that spiraled into three straight and could have been the beginning of the end.
"It can derail a club, but not this one,'' Cash said. "Because these guys, we've got enough guys that are very confident in our abilities, they know the talent in the room. They can get frustrated. We're allowed to be frustrated because we care a lot. But at the same time, they've shown the ability to bounce back and play well. ...
"They should be feeling really proud of themselves the way they came in here and played and performed against the best team in the American League.
Medical matters: Odorizzi to rehab
RHP Jake Odorizzi (back) will make what could be his only needed rehab start tonight, working three-four innings for the advanced Class A Stone Crabs in Dunedin (6:30, first pitch). If all goes well, Odorizzi could rejoin the rotation Wednesday. … RHP Matt Andriese (hip) threw a live batting practice in Dunedin and after one more could begin a multi-start rehab assignment. … SS Matt Duffy (heel) continues to do limited baseball activities. … INF Daniel Robertson (neck) looked to complete his rehab assignment Wednesday with Triple-A Durham and could be actviated today. … RHP Nate Eovaldi (Tommy John) will throw another bullpen session today and said it is "not out of the question" he could return in September as a reliever.
Do it like Pruitt
After making it a happy homecoming with six-plus shutout innings against the Astros on Wednesday, Houston-area native RHP Austin Pruitt tried to visit with as many of the 200 relatives and friends who watched as he could. "I really didn't get a chance to take a breath probably until this morning," he said. "Seeing all the buddies, seeing people I hadn't seen in a long time, they wanted to catch up. They were excited from watching and I was excited from playing." … Pruitt's dad, Gary, said he tried to treat it like many of the other games he'd watched but found himself on the edge of his seat: "I couldn't get up. I couldn't get a drink. I couldn't get a hot dog. Nothing."
. Longoria will send the batting helmet he wore Tuesday in logging the second cycle in Rays history to the Hall of Fame, joining the bat from his 2011 Game 162 homer.
. C Justin O'Conner, the 2010 first-round pick slowed by multiple injuries, was promoted to Durham and will share time with Curt Casali and Mike Marjama.
. The Rays will host another "Turn Back the Clock" Night on Aug. 12, sporting their dark blue faux '70s-retro style uniforms while the Indians wear 1975-style all red. The first 15,000 fans get a "mystery" retro jersey from among 10 players.
. The Rays won the season series with the Astros 4-3.