ST. PETERSBURG — Name an ace Wade Davis hasn't faced.
The Rays rookie right-hander has had to match up with his opponent's opening-day starter in all five of his outings this season; all five of them, from CC Sabathia to Josh Beckett, have been All-Stars.
Davis remained unfazed, and Tampa Bay has won four of those games.
The most impressive — and arguably, the most important — came Sunday, when Davis pitched seven shutout innings in a 1-0 victory over the Royals and AL Cy Young Award winner Zack Greinke before 19,757 at Tropicana Field.
The win snapped a two-game losing streak and gave the best-in-the-majors Rays (18-7) some momentum heading into their nine-game West Coast trip, beginning Tuesday in Seattle.
"Wade was awesome," veteran reliever Dan Wheeler said. "You look at all the starts, the guys he's been going up against, he doesn't back down. That's the thing you've got to love about him. He just goes out there and wants the ball in those situations."
It was the best performance of the season for Davis (3-1, 2.79 ERA), who made a quick impression in September in a callup and made his first opening day roster. But manager Joe Maddon said before the game that Davis was still building his confidence in the big leagues, believing he was one or two good outings away from "really taking off."
Might this be the springboard?
"I think what he did today is going to carry over very nicely," Maddon said. "The fact he's pitching against that guy, the fact we just lost two in a row, that's the difference between just a so-so 5-4 homestand and a very good 6-3 homestand. It keeps us mentally in a good frame of mind when we leave. There's a lot of intangibles that were dripping off of that win."
Maddon could tell Davis was on in the first inning, when he struck out Scott Podsednik looking on a nasty curveball; establishing that pitch early, Davis said, was his emphasis going in. Davis wasn't dominant but showed plenty of poise; the Royals put runners on second four times, but the right-hander held Kansas City to 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position.
He had no margin for error, as Greinke threw an eight-inning complete game on 87 pitches.
"It's fun," Davis said. "You have to go out there and battle him. I get fired up every start, no matter who I'm facing. But you know you've got to keep it close against a guy like that."
It was a typical hard-luck outing for Greinke (0-3), who gave up just a fourth-inning homer to Evan Longoria and fell to 0-4, 3.72 against the Rays, the only American League team he has never beaten.
"Their guy was fabulous," Maddon said. "Their guy could have pitched 15 innings today easily. Nobody would have beaten that guy today unless you shut them out."
Davis had some help in that, with relievers Randy Choate and Wheeler combining for a scoreless eighth and closer Rafael Soriano picking up his sixth save in as many chances, hitting the mid 90s with his fastball. And the Rays got a break, with Willie Bloomquist attempting to steal second when Alberto Callaspo hit a ninth-inning grounder up the middle, bringing shortstop Jason Bartlett into perfect position to field it and turn a big double play.
"I've talked all year about the razor-thin fine line between winning and losing," Maddon said. "That was the moment right there."
Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected]es.com.