Tampa Bay Rays rally again to beat Kansas City Royals 4-3

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — They don't want to talk about last season at all. They want to talk all about last season.

After Sunday's 4-3 victory, the Rays were doing both, buoyed by a weekend of comebacks that had them flashing back to the style of play that carried them in 2008 and now has them feeling more confident there will be a sequel this October.

In all three games, the Rays trailed the Royals after seven innings. And all three times, they rallied in the eighth to win.

It's an integral element to success they'd been lacking. And they knew it before seeing the evidence: In their first 89 games, they'd come back from a seventh-inning deficit to win only two times.

"We came from behind in all three, and that's a really good way for your team to think; that if you keep it close that you can win it late," manager Joe Maddon said. "It's really great to be able to think those thoughts in a tight game. I believe that's become part of our culture."

The clubhouse music was loud and the smiles wide after Sunday's game, amped no doubt by the satisfaction they took in the hard-earned win.

"It seemed like we did that 94-95 times last year," rightfielder Gabe Gross said.

"That seemed like our recipe, and to come back and start the second half on that note is encouraging."

And with a nod toward the progress they made over the weekend, improving to a season-best 10 games over .500 at 51-41 and gaining two games on the first-place Red Sox to creep to 4½ games out in the AL East; there has been only one day since mid April they've been closer.

"It's good," reliever J.P. Howell said. "You get a little frustrated when you win and you look up every time and see they also won."

Sunday didn't start well as the Rays went down 3-0, starter Matt Garza was off his game and the hitters off theirs against Luke Hochevar. But they scratched out a couple of runs and then scrapped for two more in the eighth.

"A lot of good at-bats put together," second baseman Ben Zobrist said, "and some great focus right there from all our guys on each pitch."

The parts don't seem like much — a Carl Crawford infield single and an errant pickoff throw, a walk, a ground ball single by Carlos Peña to score the tying run and two more walks with Gross' forcing in the go-ahead run.

"We just kept grinding," Crawford said, "everybody trying to do their part, and we did it together."

But the sum was something they think can propel them.

"It's something it seems like we hadn't had happen a lot this year," Gross said. "Most of the time if we have done something like that, it's been blatant, a double in the gap or something.

"To come away with one where we literally didn't quit, we kept putting the ball in play, the bounces turned our way for once, and that's really nice. If we get a second half full of those, we could be dangerous."

"We felt good about our chances before this series," Crawford said. "And we definitely feel better about them now."

Maddon acknowledged that last season's success led to their poor 8-14 start, despite their efforts to prevent it, but noted their turnaround; in the nearly three months since, the Rays have been among the majors' best, their 43-27 record matching the Angels and Yankees and just behind the Dodgers.

"I like the way our guys are acting right now," he said.

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

Rays 4

Royals 3

Eighth wonders

In all three games in the Royals series, the Rays trailed after seven innings before rallying in the eighth to win. Down 3-2 on Sunday, they did it the old-fashioned way, grinding out good at-bats and taking advantage of situations. To wit:

• Carl Crawford hits a one-out grounder up the middle and beats second baseman Alberto Callaspo's strong throw for a single.

• The threat of Crawford running rattles pitcher Jamey Wright, who makes two tosses to first then a wild pickoff throw, allowing Crawford to advance to third.

• Evan Longoria is pitched around then intentionally walked when the count goes to 3-and-0.

• Carlos Peña takes advantage of the corner infielders playing in with John Bale pitching by grounding a single by first baseman Billy Butler that scores the tying run.

• Down 0-and-2, Ben Zobrist battles and walks to load the bases.

Pat Burrell strikes out against Roman Colon for the second out.

• Down 1-and-2, Gabe Gross works the count, then takes a close pitch and checks his swing (confirmed on appeal by the third-base umpire) for ball three, then after another foul walks to force in the go-ahead run.

Tampa Bay Rays rally again to beat Kansas City Royals 4-3 07/19/09 [Last modified: Thursday, July 23, 2009 6:08pm]

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