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Rays 4, Angels 3

Tampa Bay Rays nip Angels to complete 6-3 West Coast road trip

ANAHEIM, Calif. — The four-game sweep in Boston four weeks ago stood as a monumental indication of the turnaround the Rays had made on the road. With Wednesday's 4-3 victory over the Angels, they added another milestone: their first series win in Anaheim since May 1999.

"It's very hard to win here," manager Joe Maddon said, "and I know that."

And if the span of time weren't enough of an indicator, as 15 times they left what others consider the happiest place on earth without reason to smile (0-14-1), consider their methods Wednesday.

They struck out a season-high 14 times. They scored two of their runs on passed balls and a third after an error. They had to go five deep into their bullpen and at the most critical moment resort to a matchup that went against the numbers.

And they still won.

"It takes a little luck sometimes," said Carl Crawford, who was a month from being drafted when the Rays last won a series here.

It also took a lot of hustle and heads-up play. The Rays beat out ground balls (led by Jason Bartlett). They bunted. They advanced on balls in the dirt. They hit balls through holes. They executed a cutoff play. They ran down balls and made diving catches.

"It's all about effort," said Maddon, an unheralded coach for the Angels when the Rays last won a series here. "It's all about effort and want-to, and our guys have a lot of that right now, and that's what I'm most proud of."

The win improved the Rays' MLB-leading record to 24-10 and, with a 6-3 mark on the long journey to Seattle, Oakland and Anaheim that included being victims of a perfect game, their road mark to an astounding 15-4, best since the 2002 Red Sox and Mariners were 16-3.

"That goes to show our confidence and our concentration on the road," said David Price, a 13-year-old eighth-grader when the Rays last won a series here.

Price did well enough to improve to 5-1 and lower his ERA to 2.03, fourth-best in the American League, but could have done better, lasting only 61/3 innings as he threw 111 pitches. His biggest transgression came in the fifth when he walked the Nos. 8 and 9 hitters but got out of it.

"I really feel like that was the best stuff I had all year, and it's a little bit of a letdown to only go 61/3," Price said.

When he gave up a single and a double with one out in the seventh and the Angels within 4-2, Maddon turned to the bullpen. It was an ensemble performance.

A sac fly against Randy Choate made it 4-3, but Grant Balfour got them out of the seventh and one out in the eighth and Dan Wheeler got another. Then, after Howie Kendrick singled and Hideki Matsui came up as pinch-hitter, Maddon made what seemed an odd move, switching from Wheeler (against whom Matsui was 1-for-5) to Lance Cormier (against whom he was 3-for-5 with a homer).

And in another sign of how things are going for the Rays, Matsui grounded out. "That's Cormier's job: Cormier gets out lefties," Maddon said.

After losing 14 of their past 15 in Anaheim, the Rays rallied for back-to-back wins.

"It's nice to finally win a series here," Crawford said. "At least we know we can do it now."

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@sptimes.com.

Tampa Bay Rays nip Angels to complete 6-3 West Coast road trip 05/12/10 [Last modified: Thursday, May 13, 2010 8:36am]
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