CHICAGO — What defined the Rays the most as they battled through cold, rain, other adverse conditions and tough opponents on their seasonlong 10-game, 11-day road trip, manager Joe Maddon said, was their grittiness and their professionalism.
So it was fitting that when the trip was over Thursday, after a 10-2 victory over the White Sox made it the most successful trip in franchise history at 9-1 and extended their franchise-record start to a major-league-best 12-4, they had some fun.
They yelled, they cheered, they jumped around the clubhouse in brief celebration.
"We deserved to have a little fun," first baseman Carlos Peña said.
"It was good to see the excitement," starter James Shields said. "When you go 9-1, that's a good reason to be excited. That gives us a lot of confidence going into the homestand, and it kind of shows what our team is about this year."
Maddon raved about the way the Rays marched through Baltimore, Boston and Chicago, handling whatever challenges were put in front of them. Those challenges included a three-hour delay sitting on the plane before they even left home; a suspended game, assorted rain delays and inconvenient scheduling (11:05 a.m. Patriots Day start) in Boston, and cold in Chicago.
"To have our concentration and focus not be altered by the surroundings — which has happened in the past, I'm telling you — that is one of the most encouraging things I got out of this trip is that we did not complain about anything," Maddon said. "We just went out and played."
It's too early to call the Rays kings of the road, but to put the nine road wins in perspective, the Rays won 32 road games all of last year, prompting Maddon to set a minimum goal of 41 — a .500 record — for this season. In 2006, Maddon's first year, they won 20, and just three after July 1.
What defined their play on this trip was stellar pitching and clutch hitting. The Rays posted a 2.20 ERA, allowed two or fewer runs seven times and averaged nearly seven runs a game, outscoring their opponents 69-23.
The story Thursday night was similar.
Shields overcame a bit of a messy first inning — by him and the defense — to work seven strong innings and gain his second win. And the hitters, aided by seven walks from Sox starter Jake Peavy and 10 overall (one shy of the team record), bunched their production and came through when it mattered.
Of the Rays' 11 hits, designated hitter Pat Burrell probably had the biggest, a two-out, two-run single that put the Rays ahead to stay in the third inning.
By the end of the night, the Rays had had plenty of help. Ben Zobrist, who was in a 3 for 28 slump, had three hits; Peña had four RBIs, walking and doubling with the bases loaded (giving him a team-high 17 RBIs); and Reid Brignac had a key two-run single.
"This road trip has been absolutely amazing," Shields said. "To go 9-1 to start the season on a 10-game road trip is unbelievable."