ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays' two opponents during this homestand couldn't be more different: the best-in-the-AL Red Sox and the free-falling Marlins.
"It just had a different vibe to it," manager Joe Maddon said of the Florida part, which began Friday.
But what Maddon liked about the Rays' 5-1 win over Florida was how they played with the same type of effort in what turned out to be a tightly contested game for most of the night. By handing the Marlins their 15th loss in 16 games in front of a gathering of 15,708 at Tropicana Field, the Rays (37-33) remained 51/2 games behind Boston, which took two of three games at the Trop this week.
"It kind of takes off some of the stress," second baseman Sean Rodriguez said. "But any time you lose to the Yankees or Boston, it's kind of like a little pin. You still feel it."
Rodriguez had a big day, picking up a two-run homer in the second and a two-run double in the eighth to tie a career high with four RBIs. It was nearly as many hits as the Miami native had in his previous 11 games combined (3-for-28). Catcher Kelly Shoppach also homered off rookie lefty Brad Hand, who made his third big-league start.
"I was fortunate enough to be able to get the opportunity to do something, and I came through," Rodriguez said.
Right-hander Wade Davis (6-5) gave the Rays a chance with a solid six-inning outing, though it was far from easy. He escaped a 32-pitch first inning unscathed and got himself out of a couple tough jams, allowing just one run, his fewest since April 20.
"I think he's building along," Maddon said. "He's not at the point where he needs or wants to be yet. But it is progress."
Maddon said though Davis didn't have command of all his pitches, he saw better velocity (93 mph). Davis believed the most encouraging sign of progress came in the fifth inning, after he gave up a solo homer to John Buck.
Rodriguez saved a run with a backhanded snag of an Omar Infante groundout up the middle. But after a two-out walk to Logan Morrison put runners on first and third, Davis found himself in a situation in which he has made bad decisions previously this season.
Maddon recently challenged Davis to put more thought into pitch selection at certain moments while having conviction. And he did that with a 3-and-2 curveball to Gaby Sanchez that resulted in an inning-ending flyout.
"I think it's more of a self-conviction thing," Davis said. "And that's what Joe was trying to get to. Don't underthink it. Put a little more thought into the time and moment, especially when the game is on the line. That's been one of the biggest things."
The Rays' bullpen again came through with three scoreless innings. Joel Peralta pitched a scoreless seventh. J.P. Howell got two outs in the eighth. And Kyle Farnsworth got Mike Stanton — tied for fifth in the National League with 16 home runs — to pop out with two on to end it before finishing with a 1-2-3 ninth, his 15th save in 16 chances.
"That was absolutely huge," Maddon said of Farnsworth's four-out save. "So many good things about (Friday's) game."
Joe Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org