ST. PETERSBURG — There was a lot that went into the Rays' major-league-most-matching 17th victory on Wednesday. An 11-strikeout performance from starter James Shields. A five-out save by Joel Peralta. Big hits from the bottom of the order, and a pop fly that hit a stadium wire.
But it was a helping hand from Mariners centerfielder Michael Saunders, who tried to make a leaping catch and instead knocked a Luke Scott fly ball over the fence for what ended up the decisive run, that made the biggest difference in the 5-4 victory.
"We got a little bit of an assist," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "You need that kind of break once in a while."
The win was the Rays' fourth straight and 10th in their past 11 games, matching the Rangers and Dodgers with baseball-best 17-8 marks. It was also their 11th in 12 games at the Trop, though it has hardly been an inspiring environment this week, with another small crowd of 9,837 pushing the three-night total to 29,267.
Shields delivered an interesting start as he logged his major-league-leading fifth win, striking out 11 — 10 in the first four frames — but lasting only six innings as he threw 119 pitches (38 in the first), allowing the four runs on a pair of homers by otherwise mortal Kyle Seager.
And Peralta provided the impressive ending, stepping in for closer-designate Fernando Rodney (unavailable after working three straight) to get out of a two-on, one-out jam in the eighth, then zipping through the ninth. "A real big-league save right there. That was spectacular," Maddon said. "It was all about him. He permitted us to win that game."
After striking out Chone Figgins to end it, Peralta pounced off the mound and did Rodney's now-signature bow-and-arrow move in tribute. "I planned that before I went out for the ninth inning, if I got the save, I'm going to go Kimbo Slice on him," Peralta said. "I did it for (Rodney).."
After the Mariners took the 3-0 lead, the Rays came back, with No. 8 hitter Jose Molina reaching on an infield — well, short outfield — single and No. 9 hitter Sean Rodriguez homering, his second extra-base hit of the season, in the third. They added two after Scott — joking, "that's living right" — hit a high pop-up that struck a wire hanging from the B-ring catwalk and dropped between first baseman Alex Liddi and second baseman Dustin Ackley for a single. No. 7 hitter Will Rhymes, in his first game since being called up, singled and Molina, who went in 0-for-10, delivered a two-run double. But Seager led off the sixth with his second homer to tie it at 4.
And that's when Scott's night got even better. The Rays have been frustrated that several well-hit balls to center have not gone out. It looked to be same when Scott crushed a 3-and-2 pitch to open the sixth, but as Saunders tried for the catch he knocked the ball, which would have hit near the top of the wall, over instead.
"I don't know what happened," Saunders said. "I don't know if I helped it. If I did, if it happened again, I'm going to do the exact same thing and try to go for it."
The Rays welcomed the assistance.
"Got a little help, and it was a big run," Scott said. "You take it."