ST. PETERSBURG — The way Andy Sonnanstine began Thursday's game, allowing four runs in the first inning, it looked as if the Rays' decision on creating space in the rotation was going to be an easy one.
But the way Sonnanstine pitched over the next four-plus innings of the 10-4 victory, allowing only one hit, made what the Rays already considered a difficult decision even more arduous.
"Absolutely," manager Joe Maddon said. "It does. It makes it tougher."
Scott Kazmir is coming back, and more likely to start Saturday than Sunday, so the Rays have to make room for him, as well as reliever Chad Bradford. Team officials have spent days discussing a series of inter-related moves and complex scenarios and were talking again after the game, with an announcement due today.
But there was nothing complicated about how the Rays won their second straight over the Phillies in the World Series rematch, improving to a season-high-matching four games over .500, at 39-35, before a slightly larger crowd of 20,141.
They roared out of the 4-0 hole with 10 runs and 15 hits, including three by Willy Aybar, who started in place of hamstrung Evan Longoria, and two more by Pat Burrell against his ex-mates, aided by poor Phillies pitching and a baserunning blunder.
There was a bit of history on the field, as Jason Bartlett extended his hitting streak to a team-record 19 games, breaking a tie with original Ray Quinton McCracken.
There was a love story, as Ben Zobrist applauded wife Julianna's stirring pregame rendition of the anthem then showed his appreciation with a two-run homer, his 16th. "It was a good little combo right there," Ben said. "It was fun watching her."
And there were the elements of an ongoing mystery, as Sonnanstine, Jeff Niemann (scheduled to start Saturday) or David Price (slated for Sunday) will be dropped from the rotation.
The options are sending Sonnanstine or Price to Triple A, or moving Sonnanstine or Niemann (who is out of options and can't be sent down without being exposed to waivers) to the bullpen. To accommodate an extra reliever, they could drop a position player (Joe Dillon?) and go with 13 pitchers.
Sonnanstine knew the scenario going into the game and acknowledged it took him a while to get his control as he struggled through the four-run, five-hit, eight-batter 27-pitch first inning.
But once he got it, he was impressive, retiring 13 of 16, allowing only one hit, a walk and a hit batter in 70 pitches over 41/3 innings. He struck out a season-high-matching seven and didn't allow a homer for the first time in nine starts.
Still, he is 6-7 despite the best run support in the majors (8.16 runs per nine innings) and a 6.61 ERA that is highest of all regular starters in either league.
Maddon, who has championed Sonnanstine's cause, liked what he saw.
"I was very impressed with the way he handled the whole moment," Maddon said. "I really expected him to pitch well, and after he got by the first inning, I wasn't surprised at all there were a bunch of zeroes after the four."
Asked what he showed his bosses, Sonnanstine pondered for a moment. "That's a good question," he said. "I felt like I rebounded well and battled. I'm going to go out there and do the best I can every time."
Enough to make it a tough decision?
"I'm not sure," he said. "That's probably a question for them."
The answer is, finally, forthcoming.
Marc Topkin can be reached at email@example.com.