HOUSTON — Ryan Roberts knows he still could be the one packing his bags for Triple-A Durham today.
With Evan Longoria's plantar fasciitis calming down, and ace lefty David Price coming off the disabled list, Roberts likely will be the player sent down to make room.
But what Roberts, 32, has learned through an admittedly "humbling" past few weeks is to appreciate every minute in the big leagues. And he certainly played like he wanted to stay in Monday's 12-0 victory over the Astros at Minute Maid Park, ripping two home runs in a three-hit night.
"That's the way to play every single game," Roberts said. "In this game, you never know when it could be your last."
There were plenty of stars as the Rays (44-39) routed the American League West cellar-dwellers. Lefty Matt Moore had a sharp, seven-inning start. James Loney extended his hitting streak to 12 games and picked up his 500th career RBI. Sean Rodriguez had his first four-hit night, and Sam Fuld and Jose Lobaton each racked up three.
"There were some new heroes today," manager Joe Maddon said. "And everybody was involved."
But it was Roberts, making his first start since June 11, who might have made a lasting impression. He was called up Saturday after spending the past couple of weeks in the minors, his first stint there since the 2010 season, having been unexpectedly optioned June 11 due to the callup of touted prospect Wil Myers.
Roberts said he wasn't bitter or angry, just sad. He shaved his beard for the first time in years, and he wore his pants legs up like the other minor leaguers. He admitted he might have taken for granted the many perks of the majors.
But Maddon said Roberts came back Saturday saying all the right things, with a "fabulous" attitude. And it paid off Monday, with a two-run homer in the third and a solo shot in the eighth.
"He was ready to play," Maddon said. "That was beautiful to watch."
Maddon admitted he was a little concerned his team would have a letdown following the emotional homestand against the Blue Jays and Tigers, and starting a stretch of 14 games against three of the American League's worst teams.
But the Rays came through with a complete performance, from top to bottom. Moore won his third straight decision, striking out nine in seven two-hit innings.
"Matt just kept getting better," Maddon said.
Moore got help from his defense, with double plays ending the first and fourth innings. Shortstop Yunel Escobar made a spectacular play — and throw— to end the fifth. "That was huge," Moore said.
The Rays had six, two-out RBI singles in all, four in the seventh inning alone. "I thought we were grinding at-bats all game," Maddon said.
Roberts won't know his fate until today, but he made the decision tougher.
"I give him a lot of credit," Maddon said. "It's not easy playing in the big leagues as long as he has, go back, regroup and come back and contribute to a win in a big way."