ARLINGTON, Texas — The trip and splattering fall rookie John Jaso took going around second base in the fifth inning is what he's going to hear the most about from Sunday's game.
But it was what the new leadoff hitter did before and after the unintended comedy that the Rays were talking most about, driving in five runs to deliver a much-needed 9-5 win over the Rangers.
Manager Joe Maddon doesn't often talk about the importance of a single game, but he did early Sunday afternoon, saying that a victory would make the 3-3 trip to Toronto, where they survived two umpiring controversies and made two ninth-inning comebacks, and Texas, where they played in extreme heat, feel like a winner.
"I now consider this an excellent road trip," Maddon said.
They needed it, avoiding a series sweep and their first losing trip while maintaining their two-game lead over the Yankees in the AL East and increasing their majors-best record to 37-20.
Maddon unconventionally moved Jaso to the leadoff spot Saturday, citing his ability to work good at-bats and get on base often. He reached only once Saturday (on an error) and struck out, as the DH, to start Sunday's game.
But then he started doing what he has done since being called up April 13 (and what seems likely to send catcher Dioner Navarro to the minors), which is to say have good at-bats, take balls and swing at strikes. The two-run homer in the third put the Rays up 2-1, the two-run single in the eighth expanded the lead from 5-4 to 7-4 and the double in the ninth added the final run. He is hitting .307, with a .423 on-base percentage and 23 RBIs in his 34 games.
"This guy, at-bat per at-bat, works it as well as anybody we have on this team right now," Maddon said. "He's a mature hitter. There's things he has to learn regarding the game, and the game here, but as a hitter he's very mature because he knows his strike zone."
In between, he provided the entertainment. Having reached on an error in the fifth, he was trying to go first-to-third on Evan Longoria's single — running like a leadoff hitter — when he wiped out and was easily thrown out.
"I don't know what happened," Jaso said. "Blew a flat tire out there. That was good. Everybody had a good laugh. Good stuff."
The Rays had lost the first two games of the series and looked bad in doing so, blowing a 4-0 lead Friday and playing one of their sloppiest all-around games Saturday, with starters Wade Davis and James Shields both getting hit around.
And playing Sunday in what Maddon termed "excruciating" conditions — 93 degrees at the start of what became a 4-hour, 6-minute game, the second-longest nine-inning affair in franchise history — they overcame.
Matt Garza wasn't particularly sharp, allowing four runs on six hits and throwing 108 pitches in less than six innings, but he got his first win in more than a month. Slumping Carlos Peña had two hits, including a homer. And B.J. Upton had his first three-hit game of the year.
"I'm really proud of our guys," Maddon said.
Marc Topkin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.