ST. PETERSBURG — The two safety squeeze bunts were nice little maneuvers in Saturday's 8-5 win over the White Sox. But the bigger deal were the bigger hits from two guys — Carlos Peña and B.J. Upton — the Rays are going to need large contributions from to finish what they've started through 50 games.
Peña, moved up to the cleanup spot in one the most creative of manager Joe Maddon's 34 different batting orders, delivered a bases-loaded double to left-center. Upton, in his second day back in the lineup following a two-day break, drilled a 416-foot homer to left.
As much as their offense has been struggling (scoring two or fewer 10 times in their previous 27 games) and as many options as Maddon has exhausted (including using rookie catcher John Jaso as his DH on Saturday), the Rays will take any signs of revival by Peña and Upton as the start of something.
"That's really big," Upton said. "Hopefully a night like tonight can help us get something going."
"It's huge," Peña said. "I think we are a very important part of this, let's call it a machine. If this thing is going to work, B.J. and I are obviously big contributors. And nobody has to do too much, it's just to pull our own weight."
As bad as they've been going, coming into the game with .142 May average, it will be progress for them just to be hitting their weight.
There was some more good news, in front of a Hall & Oates concert night crowd of 33,558, as the Yankees blew a 10-5 sixth-inning lead, allowing the Rays to expand their AL East lead to 41/2 games and extend their MLB-best record to 34-16. (Also, there was a perfect game thrown and it wasn't against the Rays.)
And there was some cause for concern, as shortstop Jason Bartlett left in the fourth inning with a right hamstring strain that the team for now says leaves him day to day.
Wade Davis pitched well enough to earn his fifth win, giving the Rays an impressive, if not historical, five starters with at least five wins each in the first 50 games. Upton (with a running over-the-shoulder catch) and third baseman Evan Longoria provided the daily dazzling defense. Rafael Soriano logged his AL-leading 14th save and extended his personal streak to 19 straight.
But it was the small ball and the long ball that made the night, as the Rays knocked out nemesis John Danks in the fifth and tagged him for a career-high eight runs, or two more than he'd allowed in his previous five starts against them.
The Rays went to their go-to safety squeeze twice, by Gabe Kapler to take a 3-2 lead in the fourth and by Sean Rodriguez to widen the lead in the fifth. "Just well executed," Maddon said.
Peña delivered the biggest hit, with the bases loaded, two outs and an 0-and-2 count in the fourth. "Maybe the biggest play all night," Maddon said.
Upton, who also walked twice, had the loudest, a 416-foot homer to left that looked and sounded like it does when he is on a roll. "Finally," Upton said. "It's been a while."
If and when Peña and Upton get going again, Maddon plans to get back to regular lineups.
"If they're hitting as normal, there's no need to manipulate it as much as I've tried to," Maddon said. "And I don't like to. … I prefer a set lineup, I prefer everybody when they come to the park every day knowing exactly where they are going to be. I like that better."
Marc Topkin can be reached at email@example.com.