PHILADELPHIA — The Rays put a lot of time, thought, conversation, cell phone minutes and computer memory into coming up with a plan to get through Sunday's day-night doubleheader.
And it really couldn't have worked out any better.
They strategized to start David Price in the opener because they needed a long and strong effort, as much to offset Phillies ace Cole Hamels as to preserve their bullpen, and they got exactly that, along with a big homer by Carlos Peña, in the 3-2 win.
Then they plotted a collaborative bullpen effort for the nightcap and pieced together nine decent innings from four relievers, topped by Brandon Gomes, to take it 7-3, with the unexpected bonus of four RBIs from new infielder Brooks Conrad.
"When theory and reality come together, it's kind of a neat thing," manager Joe Maddon said. "Theoretically, you sit down and you try to map out your plans and sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. But when it actually merges, it's kind of a good feeling. It is."
The doubleheader sweep — with only 10 hits total — sent the Rays off to Kansas City and back to American League play at 40-32 and, after losing three straight, including a walkoff Saturday, and seven of 10 coming into the day, feeling better about themselves.
Peña said winning the opener provided a huge momentum shift.
"This a good ballclub," he said. "We know we haven't been playing up to our capabilities. But the way we handle these situations, the adversity and the difficult times, it's really what's going to define us at the end of the year.
"And if we want to be champions, we'll have to make sure we get through these difficult times."
Maddon said following it up, and winning games started by Hamels and Cliff Lee in the same day, said something else.
"Our guys are really tough guys," he said "That's a big part of the reason we're still holding serve despite all of our injuries, is that we've got so many guys who are tough guys."
Price certainly did his part in the opener, becoming the American League's first 10-game winner and lowering his ERA to 2.95, as he allowed only one run — a home run by Jimmy Rollins — while throwing 112 pitches over seven solid innings. He hit 100 mph on a fifth-inning pitch and said he felt as good as he did during last month's hot streak.
"A great day's work," Maddon said. "Our best way to get off to a good start today was to pitch David in the first game."
Peña, continuing to show signs of warming, did his part with a three-run homer in the eighth off lefty Antonio Bastardo. "To come up and come through, it just feels great," he said. "I won't lie about that."
The doubleheader, as a result of Friday's rainout, was going to disrupt the Rays rotation at some point. So with the benefit of a new MLB rule that allowed them to add an extra pitcher (lefty Alex Torres), they decided to get it out of the way by putting the nightcap in the hands of the bullpen.
"Starter" Cesar Ramos, who warmed up as if he were pitching out of the pen, got the first eight outs — without allowing a hit. Wade Davis got the next eight, though allowing three runs along the way. Then came Gomes, who posted another 2? scoreless innings and picked up the win, and his first RBI with a bases-loaded walk. And J.P. Howell got the final three, leaving the bullpen in decent shape for tonight.
"Gomer was the hero," Maddon said. "Gomer was fantastic. He was outstanding. Really cool in some hot situations."
Conrad was claimed on waivers Thursday from the Brewers, where he was 3-for-40 (.075) with six RBIs in 25 games over two stints. In three games with the Rays, he is now 3-for-6 with five RBIs, including two two-run doubles Sunday night. "It feels great to come over here and help the team right away," Conrad said.
He wasn't the only one with a big hit, as Sean Rodriguez collided hard with Philadelphia catcher Brian Schneider on a sixth-inning play, knocking him out of the game with a sprained ankle. Rodriguez said he was planning to slide until Schneider stepped into his path chasing the throw, and the Phillies didn't have any issue with the play.
For the Rays, a long day turned out to be quite a day.
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]