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Tampa Bay Rays open series in Oakland by improving to 13-1 on road

OAKLAND, Calif. — The decisions are made for various reasons, whether it be recent play, complex data and statistical matrixes, or even an occasional old-fashioned hunch.

Friday, manager Joe Maddon said he kept Willy Aybar in the lineup because he looked good the night before and he likes his swings against left-handed pitchers. And he put Sean Rodriguez in the lineup, ahead of Ben Zobrist, based on research of Rodriguez's success against Oakland starter Gio Gonzalez in the minor leagues (4-for-5).

And as good as the Rays are going, it only figures both ended up delivering key hits in the 4-1 victory that improved their baseball-best record to 22-7.

"Pretty nice,'' Maddon said.

David Price had something to do with it, too, sputtering a bit early but going on to pitch into the eighth in dominating style, allowing only three hits, to improve to 4-1. And when he left, after a career-high 119 pitches, with the bases loaded and two outs, Randy Choate took it from there.

"David's the story,'' Maddon said. "We get that kind of starting pitching once again.''

Choate did his job twice, actually, as Evan Longoria's throwing error on the first ground ball Choate got from Daric Barton allowed a run to score. But Choate came back and got another, getting Ryan Sweeney to bounce out to shortstop Jason Bartlett. Rafael Soriano finishedfor his eighth save.

The Rays are off to the best overall start since the 2005 White Sox, who were also 22-7, but more stunning is their 13-1 road mark. Depending on how you count it, they are either the fourth, or fifth, major-league team since 1900 to start that well, joining the 1984 Tigers (14-0), 1976 Phillies (13-1), 1923 Giants (13-1) and 1912 White Sox (12-1-1, then 13-1-1).

The Rays had only three hits over seven innings against Gonzalez, but taking their efficient approach to an extreme, they made them count.

In the fourth, Longoria — whose 12-game hitting streak ended — walked and scored when Aybar singled to right for their first hit.

In the seventh, after Gabe Kapler singled with one out and Dioner Navarro walked, Rodriguez — who struck out the first two times up — delivered a drive over centerfielder Rajai Davis' head that scored both, though Rodriguez was thrown out trying for third.

"I was feeling good the whole game, it's just he was making good pitches on me,'' Rodriguez said. "I told myself that AB, stay aggressive, and a couple guys told me that too going up there. ... I was fortunate I got one of those good pitches I had been getting, and I didn't miss it.''

Rodriguez and Gonzalez actually go back to youth leagues and high school ball in Miami, and have remained close. "We get along well,'' Rodriguez said. "We always have good battles against each other. He's definitely going to call me soon and give me a hard time.''

Maddon said he considers all kinds of input in making his lineup decisions: "Most of the time it's just based on information I'm reading. Part of it also is to make sure that all our players feel ownership in what's going on here. And also to rest guys. … It's probably least of all hunches.''

Price, one of three Rays among the AL top 10 in ERA going into the game, was a little shaky early but ended with an impressive line: one unearned run on a season-low three hits, with six strikeouts and four walks and an ERA down to 1.91.

He wasn't pleased, though, saying: "I wasn't too impressed with my pitching.''

Price walked the first batter of the game, then allowed a leadoff single in the second but eventually settled down, retiring 11 in a row and 15 of 16 in one very impressive stretch, and didn't have trouble again until the eighth.

Price said part of the problem was that he was looking ahead too much to a possible complete game: "I s-----d myself in the eighth. I was thinking about the ninth when I was out there and it got me tonight and that's frustrating. Very frustrating.''

A leadoff walk, a balk and a two-out walk to Eric Patterson (after starting ahead 0-and-2) got him in trouble, and an infield single got him out of the game.

Before Price left, he did provide some entertainment, practically hurdling catcher Dioner Navarro as he fielded' Davis bunt in the eighth.

"That's an impossible play for Price to make,'' Maddon said. "Hopefully he will learn for the future just to let the catcher have that ball because he pretty much attempted to thwart Navi making that play.

"It was impressive — and I'm glad he got up and he walked back to the mound and he was able to throw the next pitch.''

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

Rays 4

Athletics 1

Tampa Bay Rays open series in Oakland by improving to 13-1 on road 05/07/10 [Last modified: Saturday, May 8, 2010 3:08am]

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