ST. PETERSBURG — Rookie RHP Wade Davis remembers being a spectator during the Rays' 2008 World Series run, watching a game at Fenway Park after LHP David Price left him tickets.
With Davis pitching impressively the past two months, he is making a case to join Price in the playoff rotation this October. Davis, 25, enters tonight's start against the Angels on a seven-game winning streak, tied for the longest in club history (Jeff Niemann, 2009-10; Mark Hendrickson, 2005).
Though Davis had a rough stretch in June, losing five straight starts, and he didn't know how he'd respond after going on the disabled list with a shoulder strain last month, he picked a great time to put it together.
"I just think right now, the biggest difference is the confidence is back … the swagger is back," pitching coach Jim Hickey said. "He feels like when he takes the mound, he's going to win."
Manager Joe Maddon, referring to Davis' hunting adventure last week in Ontario, quipped: "I think shooting a 325-pound black bear has something to do with it, with a bow and arrow from 20 yards away. It would definitely bolster my confidence."
Bears aside, Davis is pitching better for several reasons. Maddon said Davis is staying in his delivery better, helping his fastball go "where he wants it to go." Hickey said Davis has made subtle changes to how he uses his pitches, including a "legitimate curveball" he can throw for strikes in a fastball count.
Davis said he has not allowed the game to speed up on him like it did earlier in the season, and he controls his emotions.
Hickey said the Rays learned quite a bit about Davis from how he handled adversity.
"I've always kind of been a big believer in how sportsmanship doesn't build character, it reveals it," Hickey said.
"What it revealed about him is he had a very strong constitution and he didn't really waver. He had confidence in himself, and he bounced back really well. That's something you can't teach."
Maddon said decisions on a playoff rotation won't come until the Rays clinch a berth, but they'll likely pick four starters. For now he wants Davis just to keep doing what he has been doing and for Niemann to return to his early season form. Davis said playoff spots haven't crossed his mind; he's just enjoying the ride.
"I've always been really eager to be in a situation like this, even in high school, when we went to the playoffs and regionals," Davis said. "It was my favorite part of the year, so it's really fun to get an opportunity to pitch."
FOOT ON GAS: With the Rays coming off three intense, pressure-packed games with the Yankees, and a four-game series starting Monday in New York, there's the danger of a letdown against the Angels this weekend.
But to Maddon, there's no exhaling until a playoff berth is clinched. "This time of year, if you take your foot off the gas at all, that's your fault," Maddon said. "There's no letting up right now. I don't care who you're playing, where you're playing, whatever. You've got your foot down on the gas pedal now, period."
Minor matters: Leslie Anderson's sacrifice fly in the bottom of the ninth inning scored Elliot Johnson as Triple-A Durham beat Columbus 3-2 Thursday night in Game 3 of the best-of-five International League championship series. Durham, which hosts Game 4 tonight, trails two games to one.
MISCELLANY: The three-game series against the Yankees averaged a 9.6 TV rating (172,185 households), the second-highest regular-season average on record, behind this season's July 30-Aug. 1 series against the Yankees (9.9 rating).