OAKLAND, Calif. — After the Rays made a series of self-inflicted mistakes in Tuesday's loss, manager Joe Maddon talked to a handful of players about not trying to do too much in the absence of injured stars Carl Crawford and Evan Longoria.
Wednesday, they did just enough, beating the A's 3-2.
Ben Zobrist snapped a tie at 2 with an RBI double in the seventh. Carlos Pena and Eric Hinske hit solo homers. Andy Sonnanstine pitched six solid innings for his 12th win and relievers Grant Balfour, Dan Wheeler and Troy Percival took it from there. And the Rays made two big defensive plays, throwing out a runner at the plate in the third and another at second base in the ninth.
"Basically, that's what we've been doing all year, regardless of who's been playing for us, that kind of a game, and it all starts with the starting pitching," Maddon said.
"It's big after (Tuesday) because (that) wasn't our best day for sure,'' Zobrist said. "So to come back and have a close game again and to pull it out, our confidence is right back there.''
The Rays (72-47) improved to 1-1 since learning they'd be without both Crawford and Longoria and 4-2 on their season-long game 10-game road trip. More importantly, they remained three games ahead of Boston in the American League East.
Sonnanstine, moving within two wins of Rolando Arrojo's 1998 franchise record, was impressive again, allowing two runs and six hits and striking out six while walking one.
"Sonny had really good stuff tonight,'' Maddon said. "I thought he pitched well in Seattle, too. The last two outings I thought his stuff was as good as I've seen it in a long time. ... I just thought he did a really good job.''
And the bottom line isn't bad either, as Sonnanstine improved to a team-best 12-6, with a 4.35 ERA, and became the quickest 12-game winner in team history by doing it in the 119th game. Arrojo won his 12th in game 135 of the inaugural season.
"That's what he's always done,'' Maddon said. "He's always been a winner.''
Sonnanstine, knowing there has been talk of top prospect David Price being promoted, just wants the chance to keep winning.
"Sometimes when you get backed into a corner, it makes you perform better,'' Sonnanstine said. "Every start I know I'm fighting to keep my spot, because we have a lot of quality pitchers knocking on the door.''
Zobrist has been pretty good, too, filling in for injured Jason Bartlett at shortstop and delivering some big hits in his fourth stint with the Rays this season.
"He's getting better,'' Maddon said. "You look at him on defense he's gained more consistency in fielding ground balls and his throwing's been better. His at-bats from both sides of the plate have gotten better.''
The Rays got off to a quick, and powerful, start.
Pena continued his power surge, lofting a majestic blast high into the right-centerfield seats for his seventh homer in his past 18 games, and 22nd of the season, matching Longoria for the team lead.
Hinske led off the second by knocking Oakland All-Star starter Justin Duchscherer's second pitch over the leftfield fence, giving the Rays a 2-0 lead.
The Rays kept in that way with a key play in the third, as Hinske and third baseman Willy Aybar teamed to nail at the plate when he tried to score from second on a single to left.
The A's tied it after loading the bases in the fifth off Sonnanstine. Bobby Crosby, who hit the homer that beat the Rays on Tuesday, led off with a double, Jack Hannahan followed with a single and Suzuki walked.
No. 8 hitter Eric Patterson, just called up from Triple A, pulled a ball down the first-base line that just eluded Pena as two runs scored.
The Rays went ahead with a rally in the seventh keyed by two of the outfielders getting more playing time. Hinske singled (his season-high tying third hit of the night) and with one out, Gabe Gross reached on an infield single to third.
The A's brought in lefty Jerry Blevins, and Zobrist turned around right-handed and ripped one down the line for a double.
"A huge hit," Maddon said.
"It feels great,'' Zobrist said.
The ninth was not without drama. After Percival walked leadoff man Jack Cust, the A's had pinch-runner Rajai Davis stealing, trying to take advantage of the closer's slow delivery. But he sped it up, and catcher Dioner Navarro did the rest, throwing out Davis at second. "Percy gave me a great shot, and things went our way,'' Navarro said.
Percival, who logged his 27th save of the season and 351st of his career, then walked pinch-hitter Emil Brown before getting Suzuki to pop out for the final out.
"When you lose, the big thing is to bounce back,'' Navarro said, "and I think we did a pretty good job of that today.''
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]