BALTIMORE — There was a lot to talk about after the Rays' 9-6 win over the Orioles on Sunday at Camden Yards, from Evan Longoria's inside-the-park home run to Johnny Damon's club record to Wade Davis' bounce-back start.
But for all Tampa Bay did well, manager Joe Maddon said it could have been a "totally different" game had reliever Adam Russell (with a helping hand from Sean Rodriguez) not successfully managed a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the seventh.
"That," Maddon said, "was a huge moment."
With the Rays up 7-3 and the heart of the Orioles order coming up, Russell shook off a single by J.J. Hardy to get Nick Markakis, Adam Jones and Vladimir Guerrero to ground out. The Orioles scored two, but it could have been a lot worse, especially if Rodriguez had not made two nice plays at second, including bare-handing a Jones grounder off Russell's glove. With closer Kyle Farnsworth (stomach flu) unavailable and reliever Joel Peralta only to be used in an emergency, it was all hands on deck to stave off an Orioles comeback.
"The bullpen came in and basically said, 'We're not having it,' " Rodriguez said.
In picking up their fifth win in six games, the Rays (35-30) stayed within four of the AL East-leading Red Sox and moved to 6-4 on an exhausting 11-game, cross-country road trip. "That's tremendous," Longoria said.
Tampa Bay headed out Sunday night for Detroit, its fourth and final stop on a 7,000-plus mile character- and confidence-building trek in which the team has overcome a stomach bug spreading through the clubhouse and two cross-country flights while earning two extra-inning wins.
"I know we can't wait to get home," said Damon, a 17-year veteran. "It's been one of the more grueling ones I've ever been a part of in all my years."
Said Longoria: "It has been a tester."
The Rays passed Sunday's test by jumping out to a 3-0 lead, chasing Orioles left-hander Brian Matusz after just 11/3. Matusz, making his third start since coming off the disabled list (intercoastal strain), didn't have the usual zip on his fastball, and Damon said, "We made him pay."
Damon's leadoff homer helped him tie the club record for consecutive games reaching base safely (37), Justin Ruggiano picked up three hits and Longoria's two-run, inside-the-park homer in the eighth provided key insurance runs as the Rays had their biggest outburst since scoring 15 against the Twins on April 28.
Davis settled down after a rocky first, when he gave up back-to-back, two-out solo homers to Jones and Guerrero, to go six innings, picking up his fourth victory in five starts at Camden Yards while snapping his five-start winless streak. "I saw a little bit of improvement," Maddon said. "But he still has ways to go to arrive at the level his skills indicate."
Four relievers combined for the final nine outs, and just in the nick of time. With a severe thunderstorm rolling in and ominous dark clouds overhead during the ninth, J.P. Howell said home-plate umpire Jim Wolf whistled to get his attention, saying, "Hurry up."
Once Hardy flew out, Rodriguez said he and second-base umpire Jim Reynolds were saying, "Double play!" And when Markakis' hard-hit grounder bounced off the mound right to shortstop Reid Brignac, setting up the game-ending double play, Rodriguez said Reynolds yelled, "Yeah!"
And so did the Rays.
Joe Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.