ST. PETERSBURG — To manager Joe Maddon, Ben Zobrist may exemplify what has gone on during the Rays' remarkable run.
The utilityman, in his fourth stint with the club, has persevered through adversity and injuries.
And in taking a team-first attitude, he has come up with timely hits in huge moments in the coming-of-age season.
So it was only fitting that Zobrist played a memorable role in the Rays' 14-3 milestone-reaching win over the Orioles, an effort that epitomized how the Rays whole has become better than the sum of their parts.
Zobrist hit his first career grand slam — and received his first curtain call from 21,439 fans at Tropicana Field — as the Rays scored more runs than they had in their four previous games combined (12).
In doing so, the Rays (82-51), 41/2 games ahead of the Red Sox in the AL East, picked up their 50th home win and guaranteed their first winning season in franchise history. They are on pace for 100 wins.
Maddon said they've been trying to break down "barriers" all season, and this is a significant one and a sign of what's to come.
"I think it means this has been the beginning of a new era," Zobrist said. "I don't feel like anybody is going, 'This is kind of a fluke season.' I think the way the pieces have been put into the puzzle, that this is the beginning of something we hope to do every year. To get 82 wins, we want that to be something that's average for us."
Maddon said a key to the Rays' success has been every person on the lineup card taking "ownership." And most everyone felt a part of Friday's win.
There was designated hitter Cliff Floyd, who racked up a season-high five RBIs and is now hitting .353 in August.
"He's a gamer," Maddon said. "And to get that kind of production out of him now is huge for us."
There was All-Star left-hander Scott Kazmir (10-6), who gave up just three hits in 51/3 scoreless innings to become the fifth Tampa Bay pitcher to reach 10 wins this season (The Angels are the only other team with five starters with 10 wins).
"Everyone wants him to pitch deeper into the games, which he shall," Maddon said. "But you look at his numbers, and they're really good."
There was second baseman Akinori Iwamura, who went 2-for-3 and has now hit safely in seven consecutive games. There was Gabe Gross, who collected a season-high three hits and followed up Zobrist's grand slam in the fourth with a solo shot. It was the seventh time the Rays have hit back-to-back home runs this season.
There was Carlos Pena, who walked three times (including once with the bases loaded) and had a run-scoring single, and there was B.J. Upton, who had three hits and scored three runs.
Maddon said the whole group is playing for one another and for a larger purpose — the postseason.
"We just have our eyes on a bigger prize," Kazmir said. "We like to see this. Fifty wins at home, that's incredible. But we feel like we have some unfinished business."
Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected]