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  1. Rays

Big seventh inning rallies Rays past Braves (w/video)

ST. PETERSBURG — There was plenty the Rays did wrong in the first 6½ innings of Wednesday's game.

Their usually tight defense was sloppy, balls dropping in, throws going awry, pitches bouncing away. They repeatedly wasted chances to score or tack on runs. And starter Jake Odorizzi was not sharp.

But they made up for all of that, and more, in an impressive bottom of the seventh, hustling and muscling their way to take advantage of several Atlanta mistakes to score six runs and rally for a 9-6 victory.

"A great win. Obviously there was some good, there was some bad and a little bit of ugly mixed in there," manager Kevin Cash said. "But if that's not resilient, I'm not sure what is."

The victory was the Rays' fourth straight and seventh in their past nine games. It gave them a third straight series win and pushed them back to two games over .500 at 58-56 for the first time since July 5 and, pending the Angels' late game, within two games of the second American League wild-card spot.

And, in the resiliency department, it marked the third game in the past four when they overcame a 3-0 deficit to win.

Down 6-3 after their sloppy play and Odorizzi's off-kilter performance, the Rays' outburst — their second biggest inning of the season — was keyed by three instances where hustle and speed paid off, with a couple of big hits and assists from the Braves helping out.

It started innocently enough, a fly ball to left-center by Grady Sizemore that bounced between the two Braves outfielders over the wall for a ground-rule double. An Evan Longoria single put runners on the corners, and James Loney delivered the first big hit, lacing a double that scored Sizemore and sent Longoria to third.

That led to the first daring dash. As Logan Forsythe's sac fly to center scored Longoria, Tim Beckham, inserted as a pinch-runner for Loney at bench coach Tom Foley's suggestion, raced to third, the safe call confirmed on review. That set him up to score the tying run on reliever Matt Marksberry's two-out wild pitch.

"I just saw the opportunity and felt I could get there," Beckham said. "It's one of those plays you make going on instinct, and knowing the outfielder's arm."

Said Cash: "At the time, it's the play of the game."

But there was more to come. Brandon Guyer doubled, which put him in position to put the Rays ahead. Kevin Kiermaier grounded a ball to first, and his burst to first forced a Braves error as Marksberry, racing to beat him as he grabbed the throw, missed the bag.

"I'm sure the pitcher knew how fast (Kiermaier) was and there was probably a little sense of panic getting over to the bag," Cash said. "And the first baseman took a little longer to get rid of the ball. When you give just an extra half step to KK, he's going to enforce havoc."

Better yet for the Rays, Guyer went hard to third and, with third-base coach Charlie Montoyo making an aggressive call, headed home as the go-ahead run.

"I was going to go either way because you never know what can happen there," Guyer said, "but it worked out good."

"A great feeling,'' Kiermaier said.

Catcher Curt Casali provided some breathing room with a two-run homer off the foul pole.

And from there, they went to their rested dynamic duo, Jake McGee zipping through the eighth and Brad Boxberger working around a pair of walks in the ninth for his 29th save.

In the end, the hustle stood out.

"That's what we want to be known for," Beckham said. "That we're never out of it, and that we play to win."

Contact Marc Topkin at mtopkin@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.

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