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DELMON MAKES HIS CASE

Rookie of the year candidate keys a satisfying win over Bosox.

The Devil Rays usually have to settle for small victories.

Bouncing back - and hanging on - to beat the Red Sox 5-4 Sunday was something, especially since it gave them, like the Bucs, two wins over the past week.

So was seeing closer Al Reyes redeem himself after Saturday's frustration, unsung reliever Jon Switzer get the game's biggest out and knuckleballing nemesis Tim Wakefield lose for the first time at the Trop in 20 tries.

Plus, they sliced Boston's tenuous AL East lead to 1-1/2 games again, and, though still saddled with the majors' worst record, crawled out of last place attendance-wise with another split-loyalty crowd of 30,310.

But the Rays are after a bigger prize, too, touting Delmon Young to win the American League Rookie of the Year Award.

The popular favorite is Dustin Pedroia, the Boston second baseman, followed by Sox pitchers Daisuke Matsuzaka and Hideki Okajima and Kansas City's Brian Bannister.

Young strengthened his case in leading the Rays to their 64th victory with a three-hit game, smacking a two-run homer to push his RBI total to 93 and his hit list to 183, most of all rookies, along with 16 assists. His 13 homers and .294 average are in the top three among AL rookies.

"You tie this whole thing into a nice little bundle, I think it equals rookie of the year," Maddon said. "Everybody just wants to talk about offense. Talk about his defense, his stolen bases this year. He's a very good baserunner. He's playing a complete game for us right now. ...

"He's going to play 162 games this year. That's definitely within the scope. I don't know when the last time a rookie of the year candidate played every game of the season. Sometimes people overlook that as being important. Whenever you can rely on one guy to go out there every day to play the position at that level it matters to the whole team. And he plays it fresh every day.

"I think he absolutely deserves that award."

Young, 21, has refused to get involved in the hype, insisting he's "not really all that worried about it" and saying what many others have about his chances: "I don't know because those Red Sox guys are putting up very strong years."

But even Pedroia - who is hitting an AL rookie-best .315 with seven homers and 49 RBIs - said Young is worthy of the award, which would be the first by a Ray.

"Oh, yeah, he's had a heck of a year, not only offensively, but out in rightfield he makes some great plays," Pedroia said. "There's definitely no flaw in his game."

Pedroia gets credit for playing a key position and playing for a first-place (and high-profile) team, but Maddon said the numbers (which the Rays are pushing in weekly e-mails to national media) should matter more to the writers doing the voting.

"Those are wonderful intangibles and I think that's fabulous, but what it really comes down to is performance," Maddon said. "I think if you are really going to go after the guy that's most deserving based on the appropriate numbers, you have to give it to Delmon."

Young, who'd been 1-for-14 against Wakefield, homered in the second ("It just hit my bat") then later doubled and scored. When the Rays got up 4-0 it was the end for Wakefield, who'd been 9-0, 2.16 in 19 games under the slanted roof.

"You're always looking for that definitive sign of progress," Maddon cracked. "There it is."

But the playoff-bound Sox came back, as they always do, chasing Edwin Jackson and making it 4-3, though Switzer kept it there by getting Eric Hinske to bounce into a double play. The teams traded runs and the game ended up in the hands of Reyes, who Saturday blew his third save against Boston. But Reyes responded this time, getting the final three outs in order, for his 25th save.

"It felt good," Reyes said.

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@sptimes.com. View his blog at blogs.tampabay.com/rays.

FAST FACTS

Top rookie?

AL rookie of the year may come down to Rays RF Delmon Young and Sox 2B Dustin Pedroia. Stats and rankings among AL rookies:

Young Pedroia

Avg. .294 (T2) .315 (1)

Hits 183 (1) 157 (2)

2Bs 38 (1) 35 (3)

HRs 13 (3) 7 (T7)

RBIs 93 (1) 49 (5)

GA RBI 13 (3) 7 (T6)

SBs 10 (6) 6 (T8)

OBP .322 (4) .380 (2)

SLG .418 (3) .432 (1)

OPS .740 (5) .812 (1)

E 7 (T7) 6 (10)

F/PCT .978 (3) .990 (1)

Note: GA RBI is go-ahead RBI, F/PCT is fielding percentage, OPS is on-base plus slugging percentages

Source: Stats Inc.

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