ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays' 0-6 start lent itself to many adjectives at the time, from the more refined, such as abysmal and calamitous, to some more basic, such as horrid, terrible and awful.
But Wednesday, the Rays called it even.
A 4-1 win over the White Sox got them to the .500 mark at 9-9, just the second of the 44 modern-day teams that lost their first six to get even in the month of April and the 12th to get there at any point of the season.
"The fact that we're back to that level, that's great. I love it," manager Joe Maddon said. "But our goal is well beyond .500."
Of course it is. But given where they stood less than two weeks ago, and given how they've played without Evan Longoria, without Manny Ramirez and, recently, without Johnny Damon, it's an accomplishment. As is becoming the first team to start 1-8 and then go 8-1.
"That's a great feeling after the tough start that we had," outfielder Matt Joyce said. "That's really a testament to the talent on this team. … The biggest thing was not panicking. I think a lot of managers and a lot of teams would really hit the panic button, but Joe's as calm as they come. I can't say enough about how great he's been."
Wednesday's win, like so many of the nine in their past 12 games, was a team effort.
A solid start, seven innings from Wade Davis, who worked out of whatever trouble he got into. Quality relief work, 1-2-3 innings by Joel Peralta and Kyle Farnsworth, who converted his fourth save in four chances. Clutch hitting, a two-run homer from John Jaso and RBI doubles by Casey Kotchman and Joyce.
And their daily dose of dazzling defense.
Sam Fuld roamed the outfield to make two more big running catches in left, one with the bases loaded in the first. Shortstop Reid Brignac went deep in the hole again. Kotchman scooped several throws at first.
But the highlight came from Joyce, who made a running, jumping, over-the-shoulder catch a step from the rightfield wall to save two runs in the fifth.
"It's all over the place, it's very contagious," Maddon said. "We have to be that kind of defensive team to win this division again."
Joyce had a harder time describing the play than making it. "I'm just happy I caught it," he said. "I told Sam I've been watching him and he's been rubbing off on me."
Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski, whose frustration was capped with a sixth-inning ejection, marveled as well. "I don't know how the guy got there to catch that ball," he said.
Maddon said the key to the turnaround has been a grind-it-out approach, mixed with the tremendous defense and quality starting pitching. From here, he wants the Rays to focus on winning series and build their record incrementally, getting to five over .500, then 10, then 15.
For now, he'll take being even.
"It's great to get back," Maddon said. "You look up in the morning, you look at the paper you see that, nice feeling. But that's not the kind of nice feeling that gets you into the playoffs."
It's not, but here's something: Of the 44 teams that started 0-6, two — the 1974 Pirates and 1995 Reds — did make the playoffs.