ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays have talked a lot about trying to solve their problems, especially in close games, evidenced by their major-league high 13 one-run losses.
Wednesday night, they tried something else.
Rallying from a three-run deficit, the Rays rolled to a 9-5 victory over the Angels, playing with an aggressiveness and attitude that has been lacking at times.
"I don't think it was intentional but there was a little bit of an intensity that we brought to the field today, and that is exactly what we want to have at all times," Carlos Peña said.
"Joe (Maddon) talks about it all the time — 'We want to be aggressive, we want to be aggressive' — and today was the perfect example of it. I think it just kind of happened, but how cool is it? That was awesome."
The Rays weren't perfect, not with an abbreviated and ineffective start by Jeff Niemann and two more errors, giving them 42, second most in the AL.
But they played hard and well, and they improved to 30-31 with a chance tonight to get back to .500 for the sixth time in the past 3½ weeks and to win the series.
They showed that intensity all over the field, but it seemed most apparent on the bases, as Peña and Zobrist went first-to-third on consecutive singles to spark a five-run second (after the Angels took a 3-0 lead) and B.J. Upton and Zobrist stole bases to set up runs. "It's just cool to see our team apply that kind of pressure," Peña said.
They showed it at the plate, where Peña hit his first June homer (18th overall, second in the AL to Mark Teixeira) and to leftfield, Willy Aybar had a two-run shot and five players knocked in runs.
They showed it in the field, with Carl Crawford and Dioner Navarro throwing out runners to end innings and a series of spark-ling plays around the diamond.
And they even showed it on the mound, where Niemann responded to Angels starter John Lackey throwing high-and-tight to Zobrist (after Peña's homer) by doing the same to Los Angeles second baseman Howie Kendrick.
"We try to play like that on a regular basis," Zobrist said. "When you play the game hard like that, I feel like things start falling into place for you."
Niemann didn't get out of the fourth, following his best major-league start (a 100-pitch two-hitter) with one of his worst, throwing 91 pitches to get just 11 outs.
The Rays gave him an extra day's rest (which conveniently allowed them to pitch James Shields twice during the homestand) and Niemann said it was "debatable" if that was why he felt off. "It was just one of those days when things weren't coming easy," he said.
But the bullpen came up big, with Lance Cormier pitching for the first time in nearly two weeks and getting his first win and Jason Isringhausen, Joe Nelson and Dan Wheeler coming in strong.
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]