ST. PETERSBURG — With closer Troy Percival sidelined, manager Joe Maddon said he'd use any and all relievers to finish a game.
And Saturday, in a 2-0 win over the White Sox that sent the Rays to another new high of 12 games over .500 at 34-22, he showed that he meant it.
After Scott Kazmir's impressive effort in getting the first 21 outs, Maddon used five relievers to get the final six outs before a free-concert night Tropicana Field sellout crowd of 36,048.
"That is the epitome of the save by committee," lefty Trever Miller said. "If you have a dictionary, there it is, that's what you'd find right there. Use everybody for one out, and we win."
Grant Balfour got the final out for his first career save in his season debut after Friday's promotion from Triple-A Durham.
And lefty J.P. Howell, continuing his remarkable transformation from spotty starter to money reliever, got the biggest two. He struck out White Sox slugger Jim Thome looking with Orlando Cabrera on second and one out in the eighth, then, after Cabrera swiped third, got AL home run leader Carlos Quentin swinging to end the inning.
"Those were the big outs," Maddon said.
Al Reyes started the eighth, striking out Nick Swisher then walking Cabrera, but Howell ended that threat. Dan Wheeler got Jermaine Dye to line out to open the ninth but walked Paul Konerko and allowed a single to Joe Crede, putting the tying run on.
No problem. Miller retired pinch-hitter A.J. Pierzynski on a fly to right, and Balfour — hitting 95 mph and throwing "probably as well as he has in his life," pitching coach Jim Hickey said — got Brian Anderson to fly out for the final out.
"That's how it's going to be the next 13 days or whatever we have left until we get Percy back," Miller said.
As well as the relievers did, Maddon deserves some credit for the way he handled them in creating favorable matchups. For example, using Howell rather than Miller, the more experienced lefty, against the left-handed Thome, figuring Howell would be better against the next batter, the right-handed Quentin.
"He's been very good; I've been very impressed," Miller said. "He has his bad days here and there; everybody does. But he's won us a lot of ball games with his moves."
"Whatever works," catcher Dioner Navarro said. "Joe knows all those numbers and that good stuff."
A lot has been working for the Rays, who maintained the best record in the AL and a one-game lead over Boston in the AL East.
Certainly Kazmir, who since a rocky injury-delayed season debut on May 4 is 5-0 with a 0.55 ERA, becoming the first Ray to win five in any month, allowing only two runs and 16 hits, and insists he can do better. "I don't think we've seen the best of him yet,'' Maddon said, "and that's a good thing"
The league-best defense was again good, and the offense continues to do just enough, including another Cliff Floyd homer. It was their major-league-most seventh win when scoring one or two runs.
"When you start winning games like that, that really means something," Maddon said.
The way it's gone for the first two months, it could mean a lot.