Rays blanked in series finale

Rays blanked in series finale

ST. PETERSBURG -- The brooms were out, but they weren't put to use Thursday afternoon as the Angels dodged a sweep by the Devil Rays with a 3-0 win in front of a crowd of 18,163 at Tropicana Field.

After losing the first two games of the series, the Angels got a quality pitching performance from Kelvim Escobar.

The Angels right-hander won his career-high fifth straight decision to earn his 11th win of the season -- and did so in dominant fashion. While the Rays managed nine hits off Escobar in 7 2/3 innings, Escobar turned it up a notch when it mattered.

"We were 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position, and that was pretty much the tale of the tape today," Rays manager Joe Maddon said.

Rays hitters could be excused for having an off day against Escobar, who has pretty much had his way with the American League all season.

He has allowed three earned runs or less in 15 of his 18 starts this season and has limited opponents to one run or less in four of his last five outings. The Angels just play better when No. 45 takes the mound, a fact personified by the Angels' 14-4 record in games Escobar has started this season.

"[Escobar] has been here all year for us," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "I thought he did a great job of creating depth. ... His stuff was still good into the eighth inning. ... He's been on the money the whole season."

Andy Sonnanstine started for the Rays and appeared up to the task, allowing three runs on eight hits in seven innings to record his fifth quality start of the season. His only mistake was not being as sharp as Escobar, which led to his fifth loss of the season.

"[Escobar] threw a great game today," Sonnanstine said. "I just have to tip my cap and do better next time. I felt real good -- [I] felt like most of my pitches were moving and my location was there today -- so I was really happy."

Though disappointed with the loss, Sonnanstine said he's learning every day.

"[I keep learning] whether it's in the game or watching something somebody else threw," Sonnanstine said. "I consider myself a sponge soaking up information."

Casey Kotchman doubled off Sonnanstine to lead off the Angels' second and scored one out later when Robb Quinlan grounded out to shortstop to give the Angels a 1-0 lead.

Vladimir Guerrero singled with one out in the sixth and Gary Matthews Jr. followed with a double to right before Garret Anderson delivered a two-run single to put the Angels up 3-0.

Scot Shields got the last out in the eighth inning for the Angels before Francisco Rodriguez successfully retired the Rays in the ninth to preserve the victory and earn his 25th save of the season.

The loss gave the Rays a 3-4 record since the All-Star break as they take off for a seven-game road trip against the Yankees and Orioles.

Still to come on the Rays' second-half slate are 15 games against the Red Sox, 10 against the Yankees, three more against the Angels, five against the Blue Jays and four each against the Tigers and the Mariners.

"The second half of our season is very tough," Maddon said. "I think when you're playing a level of competition that's that good, it raises your play as well. Overall, I think it's been a relatively good start to the second half."

While the Rays lost the finale and are looking ahead to a tough road trip, Scioscia thinks the Rays could present some problems for contending teams in the second half.

"[The Rays] are a much better club than the standings show," Scioscia said. "They're going to give a lot of teams trouble in the second half."

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.