ST. PETERSBURG — Manager Joe Maddon says he's not a "hunch guy."
But two of his lineup decisions Sunday played a big role in yet another Rays come-from-behind win, 2-1 over the Mariners in front of 23,005 at Tropicana Field.
Maddon moved Gabe Kapler up to third in the order against Mariners left-hander Cliff Lee and started utility man Sean Rodriguez at second, and they responded by driving in both Rays runs. Rodriguez's two-out double in the seventh tied it, and Kapler's sacrifice fly in the eighth knocked in the go-ahead run.
"Sometimes you've got to give credit where credit is due, and that's a great job on Joe's part, and it worked out beautifully," Rodriguez said. "We came up in those key situations and came through."
But there was plenty of credit to share in this win by the best-in-the-majors Rays (26-11), who lead the Yankees by two games in the American League East.
There was right-hander Matt Garza, who didn't have his best stuff (specifically, his fastball command) but battled through six innings, giving up just one run and keeping the Rays in the game.
"You can't hang, hang, hang to wait for your offense to get going unless you pitch well," Maddon said.
There was the Rays defense, which made several spectacular plays, including Carl Crawford's sliding catch in the second and running catch by the leftfield foul line in the fifth. "Not many leftfielders make that, and he makes it look relatively easy," Maddon said.
Kapler made a diving grab in the fifth, catcher Dioner Navarro raced and slid near the Mariners dugout to catch a popup, and Hank Blalock, making his Rays debut at first base, made a nice catch in the eighth.
"Our guys are ridiculous; I mean that compliment-wise," Garza said. "I know ESPN has their top 10 (defensive plays), and there better be seven or eight plays on there from us tonight."
There was B.J. Upton, who for the second straight game sparked a late tying rally. Upton ripped his second double of the game in the seventh, slapping an 0-and-2 pitch down the rightfield line. He got knocked in by Rodriguez, who had struck out twice earlier against Lee.
"I just wanted to keep doing what I did in the at-bat before, and hopefully I'd get a couple of the same good pitches and not miss this time," Rodriguez said.
Crawford led off the eighth with a triple, and Kapler — who was batting third for the first time since September 2008 and to that point was 1-for-11 with six strikeouts and a walk in his career against Lee — hit a sacrifice fly.
"I don't think there's a better pitcher in the league, personally," Kapler said. "You just really bear down and think about, 'I'm not going to let him win,' and obviously he beat most of us today over and over, myself included. That situation, I was looking for something you can get in the air, and luckily he threw me a fastball I was able to get to."
Maddon had emphasized in spring the need to play better late in games this season, and Sunday was just another example, with the bullpen also coming through with three scoreless innings, capped by Rafael Soriano's 10th save in 10 chances.
"I just think everybody contributed to that win," Maddon said. "And that's what I really think I was enjoying out there."
Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected]sptimes.com.