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Tampa Bay Rays rout Mariners to pull within 1.5 games of wild card-leading Red Sox

SEATTLE — After Friday's stinging defeat, the Rays just needed a win.

The details weren't going to matter anywhere near as much as the result, though the 10-4 Saturday night victory over the Mariners did feature the end of James Shields' frustrating eight-start winless streak and marked a successful debut for catcher Gregg Zaun.

Certainly the Mariners helped, as the Rays drew a season-high 10 walks and scored the 10 runs with just eight hits. And the Rays did blow another lead, as a 3-0 second-inning advantage disappeared. But they quickly made up for that, expanding it to 6-3 in the fifth, with Carlos Peña hitting his AL high-matching 28th home run and Evan Longoria his 24th, then to 10-4 with a four-run eighth.

And the bullpen, unlike Friday's uncharacteristic collapse, held on, with Randy Choate getting the two most crucial outs, and Grant Balfour and Brian Shouse following.

"I think it was huge,'' Shields said. "Coming off a game like (Friday) night, it kind of hurt a little bit, it was a game that we felt we could have won, and coming back and winning this game gives us a lot of confidence going into (today).''

The win improved the Rays to 61-49 and moved them to within 1½ games of the wild card-leading but reeling Red Sox, who lost their fifth straight. The Rangers are in between them, a game behind the Sox and one-half in front of the Rays.

"As a group, we're thinking well, we're thinking right,'' manager Joe Maddon said. "If we're doing anything wrong, we're trying too hard. … We're going to get beyond that and we're going to start finding our groove.''

Shields' lack of success — he hadn't won since June 20 — was due primarily to a lack of support, with the Rays averaging an AL-low 3.46 runs per his nine innings for him and scoring three or fewer in 14 of his first 23 starts.

Saturday, they scored three in just the first two innings and six by the fifth, their most while he has been in a game since April 17.

The thing about it, though, is that they should have had more as Seattle starter Ian Snell walked six of the 13 batters he faced.

"I thought we came out well,'' Maddon said. "We had a chance to score a lot more runs than we did, but nevertheless kept battling and scoring 10 runs is not a bad thing at the end of the night.''

Shields didn't show much appreciation in quickly giving the lead back, allowing a two-run homer to Franklin Gutierrez, then after a pair of singles making an errant pickoff throw that allowed the tying run to score.

The Rays struck quickly for three more in the fifth, Longoria leading off with a homer to center and, after Ben Zobrist walked, Peña hitting a moon shot to right.

Shields, whose fastball location didn't match well with umpire Tim Tschida's strike zone, hit another rough stretch in the sixth, allowing a run on a pair of doubles and a walk, and his night was done with 112 pitches in 51/3 innings. Maddon — who claimed to be unaware of the winless streak — said he felt Shields battled, "but he wasn't as sharp as normal.'' Still, he won, which is something, and improved to 7-8. "It's big,'' Shields said. The crucial moment came in the sixth, after the Mariners cut the lead to 6-4 and had two on, but Choate responded, getting Ichiro Suzuki and Russell Branyan without the ball leaving the infield. "I'd say Randy was the pivotal pitcher tonight,'' Maddon said. "That crucial moment of the game (Friday) got away from us, tonight it did not based on what he did.''

Choate said he didn't have a good feel for his slider so he stuck mainly with fastballs, and got the job done. "I felt really good with my fastball,'' he said. "I had good action on it in the bullpen and I went out and there and just tried to get ahead and it worked out for me.''

Those were big pitches,'' Maddon said.

The Rays played with something of a different look, and will for at least the rest of this road trip. With Saturday's addition of veteran reliever Russ Springer and subtraction of utility infielder Joe Dillon, they are going with an eight-man bullpen and a three-man bench, putting a significant limit on Maddon's in-game flexibility.

Making it more interesting is their commitment to get more at-bats for Willy Aybar, which means starting him at second and Zobrist in right, and then moving Zobrist in if they have a lead. Maddon made that move early Saturday, in the middle of the fifth, with Gabe Gross going to right, leaving the Rays with no spare infielders in the event of injury.

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

Rays 10

Mariners 4

Tampa Bay Rays rout Mariners to pull within 1.5 games of wild card-leading Red Sox 08/09/09 [Last modified: Sunday, August 9, 2009 7:02am]
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