There were a number of reasons to think the Devil Rays didn't have much of a chance Tuesday night against Oakland ace Barry Zito.
The lanky left-hander had shackled them in four previous meetings, he has one of the top winning percentages in baseball history (especially in July), he has the 2002 American League Cy Young Award at home and he has an invitation to next week's All-Star Game.
But the Devil Rays showed plenty of reasons why they did, pounding Zito for a career-worst 15 hits on their way to an impressive 9-3 victory.
"Boy, if you would have told me we'd get 15 hits off Zito in five-six innings I would have looked at you a little funny," Rays manager Lou Piniella said. "It's a good way to start a road trip. And my first win as a blond."
The win was the Rays' sixth in their past nine games and their fifth of the month, matching their June total.
The Rays matched a season high with 19 hits, including a club-record 17 singles, and the offense came from throughout the lineup. Highlights included a clutch double by Ben Grieve, who'd had only three hits with runners in scoring position all season; three hits by rookie infielder Antonio Perez, who is getting a chance this week to showcase his skills; and three hits and three RBIs by Travis Lee, who had knocked in one run in his previous 17 games.
Rob Bell, meanwhile, made a pitch to stay in the rotation, or at least in the bullpen, with a strong outing.
With Joe Kennedy coming off the disabled list to start today, the Rays have one starter too many, and sending Bell back to the minors might have been the easiest way to create a roster spot.
But the 26-year-old right-hander earned his first Tampa Bay win with an impressive performance _ and may have saved his job _ holding the A's to three runs on four hits over six innings. Brandon Backe, Bobby Seay and Travis Harper did the rest.
"I was a little concerned when I read (Monday) there was a possibility I'd be the odd man out and maybe out of here, and that's a concern you don't want to bring into a start when your trying to make pitches against a great team like this, but it was in the back of my mind," Bell said. "I've heard Lou say he wants guys he can win with and get better or change the personnel. I think I'm a guy that can get better every single start."
"I think he was trying to prove a point," Piniella said. "Someone has to go; we'll see what happens."
The three runs the Rays got in the second inning matched their total from their previous four starts against Zito, who had been 4-0 with a 0.90 ERA against them (three runs in 30 innings).
The scoring started with a three-run, five-hit rally in the second, keyed by a two-run double by Grieve, the former A's star.
With one out, Lee and Toby Hall singled and Grieve brought them home with a blast that one-hopped the centerfield wall, then raced home on Julio Lugo's single.
Zito's poor performance was surprising but not shocking as he had struggled in his two previous starts. His three-game total: 18 innings, 15 runs, 35 hits.
It was the most hits given up by a reigning Cy Young Award winning since July 6, 1999, when Tom Glavine allowed 15 to Florida.
"Of course it looks worse when you get hit by a team that isn't Seattle or the Yankees," Zito said. "But when you're not on your game, there is very little leeway, even against a team below .500."