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A LITTLE CAUTION GOES A LONG WAY

The Rays capitalize on Bosox injuries to win their fourth straight.

Rays manager Joe Maddon joked before Tuesday's game that he didn't see much of a void in Boston's injury-ravaged lineup, noting, "It's hard for me to really feel sorry for them."

But Maddon was keenly aware of their deficiencies, even more so after Kevin Youkilis became the latest to leave with "right ankle pain" in the fourth, and took full advantage in the 3-2 victory that was the Rays' fourth straight and sixth in their past seven games.

"We're getting our proverbial mojo back," Maddon said.

Jeff Niemann gave the second-place Rays (50-33) a good start and the middle relievers got it quickly to the ninth, though closer Rafael Soriano - who appears in line to be added to the American League All-Star team - made it interesting, allowing a ninth-inning run before getting the last out with the tying run on third for his 23rd save in 24 chances.

John Jaso, Sean Rodriguez, Jason Bartlett and Carl Crawford had hands in the scoring before 19,902 at Tropicana Field.

Twice Maddon took advantage of the Boston lineup by walking dangerous David Ortiz to bring Youkilis' replacement, Niuman Romero, an unheralded 25-year-old rookie playing in his 12th big-league game, to the plate.

It worked perfectly both times.

"That was very unfortunate for them, I don't know exactly what's wrong with Youkilis, but once that occurred, I said we are not pitching to (Ortiz) anymore," Maddon said. "Bases loaded, probably would not have either, if there was enough cushion with the runs. That was a fortuitous moment for us. ... We were able to take advantage of it."

In the seventh, protecting a 2-1 lead with Marco Scutaro on first and two outs, Maddon had Lance Cormier intentionally walk Ortiz - moving Scutaro, the potential tying run, into scoring position - and Romero grounded out.

Then in the ninth, after Bill Hall drew a leadoff walk from Soriano and Eric Patterson tripled him in, Maddon walked Ortiz again, and Romero grounded out again.

Niemann gave the Rays another solid start, working six innings and allowing just an unearned run, giving up four hits, walking three (one intentionally) and striking out five to snap a four-start winless streak. And the bullpen turned in another fine night's work, with Dan Wheeler, Cormier and Joaquin Benoit handling the seventh and eighth innings and Soriano finishing.

The Rays weren't sure what to expect from Sox rookie starter Felix Doubront, making his second big-league appearance. But a few of them had seen him before, including outfielder Gabe Kapler, who was Doubront's manager in 2007 at Class A Greenville during his brief retirement.

The Rays scored first, with a little help. Jaso singled to lead off the third, went to second on a wild pitch and scored on Bartlett's single.

The Sox tied it in the fourth on some rare untidy defense by the Rays. With two outs, third baseman Evan Longoria bounced his throw to first, allowing J.D. Drew to reach second. Daniel Nava followed with a sharp single off second baseman Rodriguez's glove.

The Rays came right back to take the lead. Rodriguez did most of the work, lacing a 2-and-0 Doubront pitch to deep center for a leadoff triple then scoring on Jaso's groundout.

They tacked on an extra run in the eighth as Crawford homered deep to right.

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@sptimes.com.

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