ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) -Leave it to Joe Madden to provide an unconventional view of Tampa Bay's ability to keep finding ways to win close games.
The Rays improved baseball's best record to 26-11 on Sunday, rallying in the late innings for the second straight day to beat Cliff Lee and the Seattle Mariners 2-1.
Some superb pitching and defense made it possible, along with a couple of timely hits that left Maddon using a football analogy to describe why the AL East leaders are thriving despite getting inconsistent offensive production.
``How about this: I've got defense and pitching as the ground game. Hitting is the passing game,' Maddon began. ``Right now we're playing a good ground game, and it seems to be working. And that's what I'm digging.'
Sean Rodriguez delivered a seventh-inning double and Gabe Kapler added an eight-inning sacrifice fly as the Rays overcame a frustrating afternoon against Lee, who took a 1-0 lead into the seventh by limiting them to doubles by B.J. Upton and Willy Aybar up to that point.
Upton doubled again with one out in the seventh, then scored when Rodriguez followed with his hit off the right-centerfield wall. Carl Crawford tripled into the left field corner, just beyond the reach of Michael Saunders, and scored on Kapler's sacrifice fly.
Tampa Bay trailed 2-0 in the eighth before rallying to win 3-2. The Mariners have lost 11 games in an opponent's final at-bat, nine in the last three weeks.
``We're coming through when we need to. We'll take that, but we're definitely going to have to help them out at some point,' Crawford said of Tampa Bay's starting pitching.
``They're picking up the slack for us,' Crawford added. ``We know it's going to be tough for them to do that all year, but they're doing a really good job so far.'
Dan Wheeler (2-0) retired the only two batters he faced to get the win. Rafael Soriano got the final three outs for his 10th save in 10 opportunities.
The Rays beat Lee (1-2) for the second time in 11 days, rallying in the late innings for the second straight game to improve baseball's top record to 26-11. Lee allowed two runs and five hits over eight innings for his first complete game of the season and 14th overall.
Saunders drove in Seattle's run with a fifth-inning single off Rays starter Matt Garza. Ichiro Suzuki went 0 for 4, ending his streak of seven consecutive multihit games.
Garza and the Rays beat Lee in Seattle on May 5, snapping Tampa Bay's four-game losing streak against the 2008 Cy Young winner by managing five runs and 10 hits over eight innings.
Lee was much tougher on them this time, striking out 10. Although he had a fielding error in the first, when he also walked a batter for the first time this season, the left-hander kept the Rays in check most of the day by retiring the first eight batters he faced with runners in scoring position.
``That's a heck of a performance,' Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu. ``We should win that ball game.'
Upton's double in the second inning was hit hard into the gap in left center, but Aybar's hit in the fourth was a pop fly to shallow right center that fell in front of Suzuki and Franklin Gutierrez.
Aybar moved to third when Hank Blalock grounded to first, however that's as close as the Rays came to scoring. Lee escaped by getting Upton to ground to third and Dioner Navarro to ground shortstop to end the threat.
``They've got a good lineup, there's no doubt,' Lee said. ``There's a reason why they're winning as many games as they are. They've got five pretty good starters and pretty good lineup.'
NOTES: Garza allowed one run and five hits in six innings. ... Ken Griffey Jr went 0-for-4 with one strikeout. He hasn't homered in 84 at bats, the longest such stretch to start a season in his career. ... Mariners DH Mike Sweeney has a sore lower and is day-to-day. ... Rays LHP J.P. Howell, on the DL with a shoulder strain, will pitch a simulated game Monday. He could begin a rehab assignment later in the week. ... Tampa Bay 1B Carlos Pena, who's in a 3 for 49 slump that's dropped his batting average to .180, did not start. He entered the game as a defensive replacement in the ninth. Blalock, who joined the Rays on Saturday when Pat Burrell was designated for assignment, started at first and went 0 for 3 with two strikeouts in his debut.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
All Rights Reserved