ST. PETERSBURG — Brandon Allen had every reason to be anxious.
His last time up to bat was April 7 when he was still with Oakland, and the closest he'd been to getting on the field since being claimed off waivers by the Rays last week was catching the ceremonial first pitches before Wednesday's game.
So, naturally, he found himself at the plate, pinch-hitting in an eighth-inning situation and driving in the decisive run in the Rays' 3-2 win over the Angels with a bases-loaded walk by showing his patience.
"I had to calm myself down every pitch," Allen said. "I had a lot of feelings going through me."
The Rays led 2-1 at the time, and manager Joe Maddon felt it important to add on. And he liked Allen against veteran Angels reliever Jason Isringhausen, a former Ray, who had already loaded the bases on three walks (one intentional).
Allen took a ball, swung and missed, took two more, fouled off a good pitch at 3-and-1 then took ball four.
"He worked a great at-bat," Maddon said. "He was up there very calmly. I was very impressed with that whole moment."
It was even more important because what looked at the time like an insurance run turned out to be the difference when the Angels came back with a run in the ninth, thanks to an error by Ben Zobrist at second base.
"That was a big at-bat," Zobrist said. "The game-winning at-bat really."
Allen wasn't the only unlikely star as the Rays won their season-high fourth straight, and sixth of their past seven, to improve to 11-7 and hang on to a share of first place before 14,638 at the Trop.
Catcher Chris Gimenez struck out three times, but Maddon couldn't stop raving about his work behind the plate: the game he called, the pitches he blocked, the play he made on a bunt, the two runners he threw out trying to steal second.
"In spite of not getting hits, he had a great game," Maddon said. "Not a good game; he had a great game tonight, Gimenez did."
And Zobrist, who came into the game immersed in an 0-for-15 skid and with one hit against a lefty pitcher all season, broke out in a big way, with a third-inning home run off former Rangers nemesis C.J. Wilson that put the Rays ahead 1-0.
"I definitely needed that one," Zobrist said. "It's the start of the season and April has not always been the greatest month for me. Hopefully it gets me going a little bit. The good thing is we've been winning."
Fernando Rodney finished to take care of that with his sixth save. Jeremy Hellickson started and won, working six innings while battling some pitch count issues (100 total) but getting the big outs when he needed them, with defensive help from Gimenez and Jeff Keppinger. He twice struck out Albert Pujols, the Angels' $240 million man who continued his miserable start, extending his hitless streak to a career-worst 0-for-19 and his season-starting homerless drought to 72 at-bats.
Maddon liked what he saw from his young right-hander. "I thought he looked more like himself," he said. "He had to work through some messes, I like how he was going about his business."
In a way, that summed up the night for all the Rays.
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]