MINNEAPOLIS — So many good numbers were flying around the Rays clubhouse after Saturday's 4-2 victory over the Twins.
Five straight wins, their longest streak since late April/early May. David Price's major league-most-matching 15th victory and 10th straight quality start. Fernando Rodney's team-record 20th consecutive save and major league-leading 35th overall. Two home runs for B.J. Upton — at a combined distance of 858 feet. A team record-tying 10th straight game without an error. The nine games over .500 at 61-52, and the share of the lead for the American League wild-card spots.
But with their confidence growing as they may, finally, be playing up to the level they were expected to, the number they seem most interested in is the 6 that marks the games separating them from the East-leading Yankees.
"We'll worry about the wild card in September," said James Shields, who starts today. "Right now our goal is to catch up to the Yankees. I think they're still well within our grasp. As long as we keep playing good baseball and keeping winning series, we're going to creep up on them."
Manager Joe Maddon has spoken since February about how they were aiming to win another division title. But with everything going so well, when he talked about it after Saturday's game, it was a little more real.
"I think if you talk to every guy in that clubhouse, they'll echo that statement: we do believe we can do that," Maddon said. "I've always felt that we could. I thought it was important that we got the band back together again for it to happen. And so the band's coming back together now. With that, and keeping people fresh, I feel we really can make a strong statement the last month-and-a-half right now."
They certainly look more capable this past week, unbeaten since Evan Longoria rejoined the lineup Tuesday, racking up 30 runs and 53 hits in the five games.
They struck quickly Saturday for a 3-0 lead before Price took the mound. Desmond Jennings ripped the first pitch for a single, then they turned on the power. Upton bunted foul on the first pitch, then drove the next 425 feet to center for a homer, and Matt Joyce — using Elliot Johnson's lighter bat — followed four pitches later with another, into the second deck in right.
Upton made it 4-1 with a bigger blast in the fifth, his third career multihomer game, first since April 2010. "It hadn't happened in a while," Upton said. "I forgot what it was like."
Price wasn't overpowering, but he was effective, matching the Mets' R.A. Dickey and the Angels' Jered Weaver in wins. He was behind in the count more than he would've liked and didn't have great command of his fastball, but he had the velocity in the seventh when the Twins threatened with one out, getting Brian Dozier looking at a 96 mph fastball and Ryan Doumit watching 97 to end the inning.
After Joel Peralta's typical tidy work, Rodney took it from there.
"We're playing our best baseball right now we've been playing all season," Price said. "For us to be hitting our stride right now is perfect."
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]