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Tampa Bay Rays pull away late to beat Marlins and move a game over .500

MIAMI — There was a lot for the Rays to feel good about Saturday night.

They rallied for the kind of win they hadn't been getting earlier in the season, turning a close game into a 10-3 victory over the Marlins.

They climbed over the .500 mark to sport a winning record, at 23-22, for the first time since being 4-3 on April 13.

And they had fun doing it, including a pinch-hit appearance during a six-run ninth inning by pitcher Andy Sonnanstine, who hit in a game for the third time in a week.

About the only thing that didn't feel good was the left arm of major-league RBI leader Evan Lon­goria, which was bruised by a Hayden Penn pitch in the ninth. Longoria had stitch marks and swelling just above the elbow but said he felt "okay" and wasn't hurt seriously, though he is questionable for today's game.

Otherwise, the most telling sign of the night was the way the Rays rallied after giving up the lead by allowing two runs in a sloppy seventh, then manufacturing a run to grab the lead back in the eighth, then cracking it open in the ninth.

"That's how we're going right now," Longoria said. "That's how we played all last year and won games, and the belief is back.

"In tight games like that, we believe firmly we can win those games now."

Manager Joe Maddon likes what they're doing and how they're doing it.

"I like our fight," he said. "We've been fighting as a group pretty consistently, especially over like the last two weeks."

Jeff Niemann wasn't comfortable batting in a game for the first time in 10 years — since summer league play before his senior year in high school — but he is looking increasingly comfortable on the mound.

He worked six strong innings, allowing only a two-out homer to Dan Uggla in the fourth. He was in line for his third straight, and a team-high fifth, win, had the bullpen and defense held up in the seventh. He also struck out twice and bunted once.

"I had fun out there," Niemann said. "Getting in that box was fun, and I was throwing the ball well, too."

The Rays took a 3-1 lead into the seventh but gave it up as reliever J.P. Howell walked two and Akinori Iwamura didn't make a play on a ground ball.

But the Marlins are playing right now like the old Rays used to, and they made more mistakes, including two in the eighth as the Rays rallied back for a 4-3 lead.

Iwamura drew a leadoff walk, went to second on B.J. Upton's bunt then third on a familiar sight: ex-Ray Jorge Cantu, now the Marlins first baseman, fumbling a ground ball. Lon­goria picked up his 48th RBI with a liner to right that dropped in front of Jeremy Hermida, who had a handful of misplays.

The ninth was worse as the Rays scored six, including one on a balk. Sonnanstine had been conveniently hanging out near the bat rack — he claimed he was readying a helmet and bat for Dan Wheeler — when Maddon gave in to the power of suggestion and sent up Sonnanstine, who struck out. "I think he was standing over there the whole game," Maddon said.

Longoria left the game after advancing to third but said he could have stayed in. Maddon called it "one of those good old contusions" but said no X-rays were needed and they think he'll be fine.

"He got me pretty good, but it hit me in the meat, that's a good spot," Longoria said. "It feels okay right now."

With a winning record and only 3½ games out of first, they were all feeling okay.

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

Rays 10

Marlins 3

Tampa Bay Rays pull away late to beat Marlins and move a game over .500 05/23/09 [Last modified: Sunday, May 24, 2009 7:40am]

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