ST. PETERSBURG — Erik Bedard was certainly worthy of the headlines and highlights Saturday after giving the Rays a dazzling start, allowing one mere hit in working six scoreless innings.
But the bigger news was their somnambulant offense woke up to lend some support, and — you know if you've been watching — the bullpen didn't blow it as the Rays ended a season-high-matching four-game losing streak with a 7-1 win over the Indians.
"We kind of played well tonight," manager Joe Maddon said.
Bedard has shown steady improvement since joining the rotation April 18, following six strong innings against the Yankees last Sunday with a sterling 101-pitch outing against the Indians. He is the only Rays starter to work at least six innings in the past week.
"I'm always a slow starter, so the first couple were rough," Bedard said. "After that you just get in the groove of things."
The veteran lefty was in control and command, mixing a fastball that often doesn't make it out of the 80s with a slow curve. He allowed his only hit in the second, a one-out double by Durant High product Ryan Raburn; had a six-pitch third; and worked out of his only real trouble after walking the first two in the fourth, setting down Carlos Santana, Raburn and Asdrubal Cabrera in order.
"I thought he looked really good," Maddon said. "I expected (him to work) deeper into games, really competitive games. He has the weapons to do that and he has the know-how. He has a good feel for pitching besides having some good stuff."
After Bedard was done, Juan Carlos Oviedo, looking sharper as he goes, stepped in with two much-welcomed 1-2-3 innings. But just when the Rays thought they could exhale, closer Grant Balfour, who asked for action since he hadn't pitched since May 4, loaded the bases to start the ninth before getting a sac fly and a double play to end what still was a three-hit performance.
In addition to losing four straight and dropping six games under .500 for the first time since April 2011, the Rays had lost six in a row at home. So the victory, before 29,212, allowed them to light the Trop roof orange for the first time since April 22.
After scoring 10 runs total and going 6-for-35 with runners in scoring position during the skid, Saturday's seven runs seemed like an outburst, the 4-for-6 with RISP a festival. Sensing the players were tired from the long games and losses, Maddon canceled batting practice (and the scheduled team photo) so they could show up later, and it paid off.
"We looked good, we came out ready to swing and it led to good things," outfielder Matt Joyce said. "Obviously it was a rough week for us, but you've got to keep grinding."
The offense came in staccato bursts as the Rays got one in the third, then two in the fourth, fifth and seventh. Five players knocked in runs, with James Loney, as part of a three-hit night, and Joyce, with his major league-leading sixth and seventh sac flies, getting two each. Also of note, Ben Zobrist, who had been in a 3-for-31 funk, had two hits.
"Kind of a fun night to watch our offense," Maddon said, for the first time in a while.
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]om.