ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays really can't keep this up.
Because if they did, after Wednesday's 10-3 victory that extended their best-in-baseball start to 16-5, they'd win a major-league record 123 games.
They'd lead the majors with a staggering 1,011 runs while allowing the fewest runs in the AL, barely 3.4 per game. They'd have three pitchers, James Shields, Matt Garza and David Price, with 23 wins. They'd have one slugger, Carlos Peña, with 39 homers and 162 RBIs and a handful of others in the 25-homer, 100-RBI range.
"I'd have to bet," even perpetually positive manager Joe Maddon said, "that that's not going to happen."
But what the Rays can do is keep doing what they're doing.
"Everything is obviously working well right now; let's just keep it going," Maddon said. "We're capable of playing this way. It's not like a fluke. We're very capable of this. We just have to keep our minds right and we'll be fine. …
"I like the effort in our game. I like the mental and physical effort in our game every night. That's my takeaway. That's what I'm really enjoying."
What the Rays have done so far is pretty monumental as it is — even if the best team in baseball again drew the worst "crowd" of the night, a season-low 10,691.
Their start is the best in the majors since the 2005 White Sox (who also were 16-5) and the best among AL East teams since the 2003 Yankees (who were 18-3) and going as far back as 1989. Both of those teams, by the way, played in the World Series.
Wednesday, the Rays broke open a game that was 2-2 through four innings with a six-run, 11-batter, 50-pitch fifth inning, racking up a season-high 14 hits for the night and improving their MLB-leading average with runners in scoring position to .327. Peña and Evan Longoria homered, and every starter had at least one hit except for rookie catching sensation John Jaso, and he still managed to knock in two runs. A's starter Dallas Braden didn't have to worry about any Rays running across the mound — as the Yankees' Alex Rodriguez did last week to some controversy — because they were too busy crossing the plate.
"At one point during the game, their third-base coach (Mike Gallego) came over and said, 'Is there anyone in your lineup that can't hit?' " Longoria said.
"Someone apparently didn't tell the Rays that (batting practice) was over when they took the cage off the field," Braden said. "They just kept hacking."
Shields battled through seven innings to improve to 3-0, striking out a career high-matching 12 along the way. While there were some mistakes, there was more good defense, including a crucial relay from Carl Crawford to Jason Bartlett to Jaso to nail Eric Patterson at the plate in the fifth. "A really big moment," Maddon said.
The Rays realize they've played barely 13 percent of their schedule, and it's not going to be this easy for the entire six months. But they're enjoying it for now.
"We're not going to win every game,'' Longoria said. "If we keep bouncing back from the losses and continue to play well when we're streaking and when we're hot and hitting on all cylinders, that's the way we're going to win this division."