MIAMI — Matt Joyce labeled the Rays' road trip "a little bit of a roller coaster."
It started low, with Tampa Bay scoring one run in two frustrating losses at Yankee Stadium. But it ended with four consecutive wins, including a sweep-clinching 4-2 victory over Miami on Sunday in front of 31,111 at Marlins Park.
"We're on a nice little roll," said right-hander James Shields, who got the win.
A big reason is Tampa Bay's offense, which has come alive, scoring 29 over the four wins and hitting five homers the past two days. That has the Rays (35-25) coming home all alone in first place in the American League East and boasting the AL's best record.
"We just had to keep swinging," Joyce said. "The offense is going to come around, and (Saturday) was a big game for us. We kind of carried it into (Sunday). Hopefully we can keep it going."
The Rays, who had a season-high 13 runs Saturday night, continued to show some pop. B.J. Upton gave Tampa Bay the lead in the first with an RBI double, and both Joyce (solo) and Elliot Johnson (two-run) hit home runs in the fourth.
"Up and down the lineup, it's just getting better," manager Joe Maddon said.
That was enough for Shields (7-4), who snapped a four-start winless streak with a strong 61/3-inning outing. He wasn't happy with his three walks, but he battled his way through, including striking out slugger Giancarlo Stanton swinging on a 3-and-2 changeup with two on to end the sixth.
"He's a wonderful athlete, he's going to be a superstar in baseball," Maddon said of Stanton. "But Shields kept making good pitches at the right moment."
The bullpen continued its spectacular work on the road trip, finishing it off with 22/3 innings. When Shields allowed his first run with back-to-back doubles in the seventh, left-hander Jake McGee came in to get the final two outs, stranding two. And in the eighth, Joel Peralta gave up a run but struck out Gaby Sanchez to strand a runner on second. Peralta, who fell behind 3-and-1, got Sanchez looking on a slider then a full-count split-finger pitch.
"You've got to get him out with your best pitch, so that's what I did," Peralta said. "I just wanted to make sure it was down in case he made contact. It worked."
The only thing that didn't work for the Rays was their dugout phone, with infielder Will Rhymes serving as their "messenger" in the seventh to get word to relievers when to warm up.
After putting two complete games together on back-to-back days, Tampa Bay enters today's off day, before a three-game series with the Mets followed by three with the Marlins, feeling like it found something on the trip.
"We started off slow, but we finished strong," Shields said. "We've got a lot of confidence."
Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com.
"We started off slow, but we finished strong. We've got a lot of confidence."
James Shields, Rays starter, on the team's three-game sweep of the Marlins