SEATTLE — All the dramatics and heroics of Tuesday night's come-from-behind victory over the Mariners would have been nearly for naught had the Rays not followed up on Wednesday.
And though it wasn't easy — a 2-0 squeaker in which they scored on a bases-loaded walk and a wild pitch while rapping only three hits, and lost second baseman Ben Zobrist for likely a few weeks with a dislocated thumb — they got it done. With another strong start from reconstructed Jake Odorizzi, who took a no-hitter into the sixth, and enough support from the bullpen and defense, they feel like they are finally heading in the right direction.
"We knew things would get better," Odorizzi said. "And now it's getting to that next stage, put some things together and go on a good run. Every team does it, and hopefully this is our time when we start getting things going in the right direction. We can be right back in front of this thing as quickly as we were down here."
The back-to-back wins, their first since May 1-2 as they'd lost seven of nine, improved the last-place Rays to 18-23, and more importantly for their psyche to within 3½ games of the first-place Orioles.
"That's called a streak right there; anyone can win one, when you win two it's a streak," closer Grant Balfour cracked. "Every game you win builds a little more confidence among the team."
Odorizzi played a huge part, building on his strong showing in Friday's no-decision against Cleveland by sticking to a simplified game plan called by catcher Ryan Hanigan that relied on mixing his pitches well.
"It's just better utilization of all the stuff," manager Joe Maddon said. "Better game planning. … Knowing what he's going to do before he goes out there matters."
Odorizzi didn't have command of his slow curve, but he used it as bait and relied primarily on his fastball. He walked the first batter then pretty much sailed, allowing one more walk then his lone hit with two outs in the sixth while striking out eight. He won, and got through six innings, for the first time since April 4.
"It's encouraging to see the results keep coming. It's a process, a learning process," he said. "I learned a lot during that tough stretch I went on. Learn what to do, how to use stuff, different things for different situations. Being through that situation makes these ones more special."
The Rays got their runs in a fourth-inning rally, such as it was, that featured one hit, a one-out single by Evan Longoria, followed by a fielder's choice grounder by James Loney.
Wil Myers and Desmond Jennings drew walks off Brandon Maurer to load the bases, then Yunel Escobar delivered what he called "a great at-bat," falling behind 0-and-2 then battling through seven more pitches to draw a walk, forcing in a run. The second scored when reliever Dominic Leone's second pitch bounced through catcher John Buck's legs, allowing Myers to race home.
The Rays protected it in the field, Longoria dazzling in starting a seventh-inning double play, and from the mound.
"We're trying to get out of this little hole that we put ourselves in, and every win now is a good win," Escobar said through bench coach Dave Martinez. "This ain't over 'til October."