ARLINGTON, Texas — The six runs the Rays racked up in the first two innings Wednesday, and the eight overall, including a pair of homers from Evan Longoria, served as makeup — well, maybe to everyone but hard-luck loser James Shields — for their feeble showing the night before.
But despite the pregame joking and kidding and movie-reference citing — Wedding Crashers, actually — about how "everybody's going negative town on us" after a four-game losing streak, Rays manager Joe Maddon made it blatantly obvious how important it was for them to hang on to what ended up an 8-4 win.
"There were a lot of reasons," Maddon said. "The point was to keep the lead at all costs."
So after Alex Cobb allowed the Rangers back into the game with two runs in the second and another in the third, Maddon started getting his relievers ready. And by the fifth, after the Rangers closed to within 6-4, he made the call, pulling Cobb one out shy of qualifying for the win.
"I wasn't comfortable with the way they were coming back," Maddon said. "I didn't like the way it was setting up. Against a veteran club like that, I didn't want to take any chances."
Even Cobb, who threw 92 pitches, said he understood.
"We're in a tough race right now. This bullpen's been lights out all year. He's trying to win games. That's the smart thing to do right there," he said.
"We couldn't lose this game, especially coming out with a 6-0 lead in the first two innings. You know we had to do whatever it took to win that game."
With the win, the Rays avoided a season-high five-game losing streak and improved to 71-59, gaining a game on the Yankees in the American League East race (four out) and the Orioles in the wild-card race (a half-game behind).
Whatever frustration carried over from Tuesday's 1-0 loss, it was gone early Wednesday off top Texas winner Matt Harrison as they took a 3-0 lead in the first, with Longoria hitting a two-run homer, then made it 6-0 when B.J. Upton, after getting a safety squeeze sign earlier in the count, crushed a three-run homer.
Better result than the bunt? "Definitely," Upton said.
They added to it with homers by Elliot Johnson in the sixth, pushing the margin to 7-4 at a key point, then Longoria's second shot in the ninth. They were Longoria's fourth and fifth homers since coming off the disabled list Aug. 7, and his first multi-homer showing since Game 162, which you might recall.
(And as bad as the Rays offense is, it should be noted that it was the second time in the past three weeks they outscored the Bucs in their exhibitions.)
Cobb was one out away from completing the requisite five innings, but with the bullpen rested, Maddon started a parade — though without J.P. Howell, who had already warmed up twice — to get the last 13 outs. Burke Badenhop got one, then Jake McGee (who ended up with the win), Kyle Farnsworth, Joel Peralta and Fernando Rodney three each.
"We knew we needed it," Upton said. "The first two games you lose by one run we felt like we definitely had opportunities to win both of them and we didn't. So we knew we had to bounce back, and today was a big game."
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]