CLEVELAND — Reid Brignac acknowledged it felt good to come through with the go-ahead homer in the second inning of Sunday's 4-2 win over the Indians.
But Brignac said the bigger thrill was making arguably the game's biggest defensive play in the seventh, when, with two outs and runners on second and third, he saved the lead by diving to his left to snag a hard-hit grounder and rob Carlos Santana of a potential two-run single.
The play was symbolic of the Rays' sparkling defense all day, and fitting in that the Rays wrapped up their first series victory in Cleveland since 2005 with rare good fortune at Progressive Field.
"Fortunately, I was in the right place at the right time," Brignac said.
Well, there was a method to the madness.
The Rays didn't know much about Santana, 24, the Indians' top prospect who was called up a month ago. But manager Joe Maddon said advance scouting had them position Brignac 5-7 yards deep in rightfield in a defensive shift.
The Rays have tried the strategy against veteran left-handed sluggers such as David Ortiz.
"But normally you don't see that happen on a guy that's that young in the league," Maddon said. "And there's no way we would know that if we didn't have such good guys upstairs. Otherwise, Reid would have never been in that position."
The Rays (59-38) were also in a position to win — and complete what they considered a successful a 5-4 road trip — thanks to rookie right-hander Wade Davis (8-9), who settled down after early struggles to pick up his third straight victory. Davis said he slowed his pace after giving up two runs in the first two innings and watched his defense make huge plays.
"You look at some teams, (pitchers) feel like they have to strike everybody out," Davis said. "This team here can go get everything."
There was first baseman Carlos Peña, who made a great scoop on a hard grounder by Asdrubal Cabrera in the first inning, slowing a potential rally. And in the second, Jason Bartlett made a spectacular diving stop in the hole between shortstop and third base before throwing to third to get lead runner Jayson Nix, who represented the tying run.
"We had a couple phenomenal plays today that saved runs," rightfielder Ben Zobrist said. "That's what this team does; we play defense hard and help our pitching out however we can."
Closing it out wasn't easy, as two Rays baserunners got picked off in the eighth and the Indians put the tying run on base or at the plate in each of the last three innings. But relievers Joaquin Benoit, Grant Balfour and Rafael Soriano helped shut the door.
As a result, the Rays flew home with some momentum and remain three games back of the first-place Yankees as they prepare to begin a tough 11-game homestand against the Tigers, Twins and New York.
And Brignac is a big reason why, as he had four homers and 11 RBIs over his past seven games, rewarding Maddon for putting him in the lineup more.
"He's stepped up this year, when there was a lot of uncertainty coming into this year for him," Zobrist said. "And he's been really big for our team."
Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com.