MIAMI — The Rays began Saturday watching — and cheering on — their wives as they racked up 14 runs in a charity softball game against the Marlins' spouses.
"They crushed it," Ben Zobrist said, smiling. "And set the tone."
Zobrist and his teammates followed suit, setting a season high for runs in a 13-4 victory over Miami. And they did it in front of a very noticeably pro-Tampa Bay crowd of 30,963 at Marlins Park, with several "Let's Go Rays!" chants and jerseys spread throughout the stands.
"Someone on the bench said we had more fans at this stadium than we do at home," centerfielder B.J. Upton said. "There were a lot of Rays fans. That's pretty cool, to go on the road and have a bunch of fans rooting for us. That's not ordinary."
The Rays (34-25) rewarded the supporters with one of their most complete games of the year. It included a solid six-inning start from rookie lefty Matt Moore, a rare offensive explosion and a shutdown performance from the bullpen. More important, Tampa Bay's third straight win kept it in first place in the American League East and propelled it past Texas (34-26) for the league's best record.
Said Upton: "Everything came together."
Zobrist was the biggest offensive star with two two-run homers and three hits overall. It was especially encouraging for Zobrist, who has struggled for most of this year but has six hits in his past three games. It was Zobrist's first multihomer game since Sept. 25, 2008.
"It's been real nice," Zobrist said. "It's a long season, and it's been a long couple months for me trying to get things going. Hopefully this is a sign of good things to come."
The Rays jumped on veteran right-hander Carlos Zambrano, who left after three innings with lower back stiffness. They broke the game open with a five-run second inning, sparked by Elliot Johnson's two-run single, one of a career-high four hits and three RBIs for the infielder.
Even Moore, after missing a bunt sign earlier in an at-bat, delivered a safety squeeze bunt to knock in a run in the second.
"It was definitely cool," he said.
Moore cruised early, using mostly a fastball-changeup mix after the Rays took a big lead, striking out nine and walking two. His only struggles came in his sixth and final inning, when he allowed a three-run homer to ex-Rays outfielder Justin Ruggiano on a 3-and-2 fastball.
Moore (3-5) has a two-game winning streak, having allowed a combined seven runs in his past three starts.
"There's still definitely room to grow, no question," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "The finished product is probably two, three years down the road, at least, but for right now I'll take it. He's a young lefty with an outstanding arm."
The Rays' bullpen, which had worked a combined 81/3 innings the previous two games (both wins), was sharp again, with three innings from Wade Davis and Cesar Ramos. And Tampa Bay's offense continued to pile on, with every starter collecting a hit except Moore, Will Rhymes and Matt Joyce. Even Davis had a single, and Hideki Matsui doubled in his first at-bat since Wednesday.
The Rays added three runs in the eighth and one in the ninth, coming one shy of the wives' total.
Quipped reliever J.P. Howell: "You can't compete with the women."