HOUSTON — For Jerry Sands, the third broken bat was the charm Sunday.
And the Rays infielder didn't crack under the pressure.
Sands, 26, pinch-hitting with two on and no outs in the eighth inning, broke two bats on foul balls against Astros reliever Jerome Williams in working a 3-and-2 count. Then Sands delivered a — surprise — broken-bat single to left, breaking a tie and lifting the Rays to a 4-3 win at Minute Maid Park. It was Sands' first career go-ahead hit.
"It was pretty crazy," Sands said. "I don't think I've ever broken two in one at-bat, but three in three consecutive swings, it's pretty crazy."
The Rays (27-43), winners of three of four, clinched their first series win since May 23-25 against Boston. They hope to carry the momentum into a 10-game homestand that begins tonight against the Orioles.
"It's huge, jeez," said ace lefty David Price, who won for the first time in six starts since May 13 in Seattle. "It's been a while. I didn't remember my last win until about five minutes ago, think it was like three road trips ago. It's been rough. That was big. Hopefully it can get us going in the right direction."
It didn't look good early, as Price allowed two home runs — giving him an American League-high 15 — in the first four batters he faced.
But Price, as he has recently, settled in, allowing two hits after the third in a strong eight-inning outing, striking out 10 and walking none in giving the Rays enough time to strike back. It was Price's 20th career double-digit strikeout game, breaking James Shields' club record.
"I think historically, I've seen a lot of really good pitchers that if you don't get them early, you don't get them," manager Joe Maddon said.
Maddon thought the Rays should have gotten to righty Brad Peacock early. They had chances but couldn't capitalize and left 12 on base overall.
After the Rays scored just once in a bases-loaded, no-out situation in the second, Yunel Escobar — who snapped an 0-for-14 slump with two hits — hit a ball to the left-centerfield wall in the fourth that centerfielder Dexter Fowler dived for and missed. Escobar cruised into second with an RBI double, but Maddon said he was "absolutely surprised" the shortstop didn't get a triple.
"He should have been at third base," Maddon said.
Escobar, who ended up stranded at third, was unavailable for comment. Asked if his concern was addressed, Maddon said, "Internal affairs."
Escobar seemed to get the message, hustling from first to third in the sixth on a Jose Molina single, helping set up the tying run. Desmond Jennings appeared to hit into an inning-ending double play, but Maddon challenged the out call at first, and it was overturned, allowing Escobar to score.
Meanwhile, Sands stayed ready, having gone 1-for-9 with five strikeouts since getting called up two weeks ago. Sands said he had to "dig deep" to find another bat before getting jammed with a Williams pitch, using his 6-foot-4, 225-pound frame to lift it into left.
Joked Sands: "Need to get in a new bat order now."