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Tampa Bay Rays beat Houston Astros 7-2

HOUSTON — Wade Davis didn't snap the Rays pitchers' interleague play 0-fer, but he did get down two bunts, one leading to a run. He made a textbook play on a comebacker by freezing the runner off second to start a key first-inning double play.

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Oh, yeah, and he pitched seven strong innings in what manager Joe Maddon considered his sharpest outing of the season as the Rays rolled past the worst-in-baseball Astros again Saturday, 7-2.

"He did a lot of things well," Maddon said. "He was a good baseball player tonight."

Davis wasn't alone as the Rays won their third straight and improved to 7-1 in their current stretch of interleague play, moving to a season-high nine games over .500 at 43-34 and within two games of first place as the Yankees went ahead of the Red Sox.

Evan Longoria delivered another hands-on performance at the plate, doubling in a pair of runs as he went without batting gloves for a second straight game, while B.J. Upton (with a single and a homer) and Casey Kotchman (with three hits to raise his average to .342) also knocked in two each.

Longoria said he'll stick with the bare-handed approach after a second straight multihit game. "If the results keep coming, I really can't stop now," he said. "My swing feels good; it's in a good spot. It's not a direct result of no gloves by any means, but as superstitious as we are, I'll keep going that way."

Davis has his own good luck charm, a small wooden owl he bought in Seattle that sits in his locker, and he has won his three starts since. But the more aggressive use of his fastball and improved thinking on the mound probably have a little more to do with it.

"He was a lot better (Saturday)," Maddon said. "Strike-throwing, method, how he went after them."

Davis (7-5, 4.32) said it has been an ongoing process, and he's encouraged by the progress.

"I think I stayed under control better than I have all year throughout the whole game," he said. "Everything's coming together a little better, got some things to build off of, momentum."

Saturday, the Rays got him runs in each of the first three innings — on their way to their first 10-plus hit game since June 12 — and he took it from there. The first-inning double play, aided by Jeff Keppinger's base-running mistake, helped, and Davis pretty much handled whatever else came up.

The biggest out came in the sixth, protecting a 4-1 lead. The Astros had two on with one out, and Davis got Carlos Lee on a foul pop. Then after he loaded the bases by hitting Matt Downs, he got Brett Wallace to swing at a curveball and ground out to first.

The Rays are comfortable and confident with the pitching of their top three starters, James Shields, David Price and Jeremy Hellickson. So a major factor in how they do the rest of the season will be what they get out of Davis and Jeff Niemann, who today makes his second start since coming off the disabled list.

"If Wade continues to pitch like that and we get Niemann back (to form), we'll have a chance to win every night," Upton said. "Not that we don't feel that way already, but when those guys are on their game, it makes us a lot better ballclub."

"We haven't really seen all of (the starters) really put it together at the same time," Longoria said. "If they can do that, I said going into the season I'd take those five guys in our rotation and put them up against anybody and be really pleased with what we have."

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@sptimes.com.

Rays 7

Astros 2

Tampa Bay Rays beat Houston Astros 7-2 06/26/11 [Last modified: Sunday, June 26, 2011 1:02am]

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