Crawford, bullpen power Rays to win

Crawford, bullpen power Rays to win

ST. PETERSBURG -- August brought with it a refreshing change for the Rays. Gone were the days of a leaky bullpen. Instead of a late-inning defeat, the Rays rallied, the defense held firm and Wednesday, if only for a day, manager Joe Maddon was allowed to entertain the possibility that his relief crew was unstoppable.

"It really was nice to watch that whole thing unfold," Rays manager Joe Maddon said following his club's 6-2 win over the Blue Jays. "They all went in there and did a great job. It was just one game, but it's nice to see."

Tampa Bay came away from trade talks with two new Major League arms in addition to a pair of Minor League ones. Maddon mentioned during his pregame press conference that he hoped having several "closers" would be the answer to the bullpen's woes. Gary Glover was two steps ahead of him.

"It is a boost any time we play a series [like this]," said Glover, who picked up his fifth win. "July, as everybody knows, is a real tough month for this team. Hopefully we can flip-flop what we did in July and have the reverse in August.

"The last five games, we've been right there ... things appear to be looking up."

Glover's not far off, either: He and the rest of the Rays relief crew combined to post a 2-0 record and 0.68 ERA during the current three-game set against Toronto and racked up 11 punch outs along the way.

His bullpen mates weren't too shabby in the previous series against the Red Sox, and have come quite a ways in a short time, given the pressure on them to perform.

On Wednesday, the Jays didn't score after the second inning and four relievers -- Juan Salas, Glover, Dan Wheeler and Al Reyes -- combined to finish triumphant.

"It really shows you how you'd like to do it," said Maddon, in reference to the combination of arms used. "When we've got the bullpen going, it makes all the difference in the world. We've had a hard time finishing off a game like this in the past."

Wednesday's gold star went to Salas, who was forced into early action when starter Jason Hammel exited the game with shoulder fatigue at the beginning of the fourth inning. Salas responded in a big way, tossing two innings of shutout ball and limiting the Jays to a single hit before passing the torch to Glover.

"It was a really good job on the whole bullpen's part to go in there and make pitches and keep the team in the ball game long enough to get a win out of it," Glover said.

Glover allowed nothing but a single during his two-inning watch, and by the end of his time in the seventh, the Rays were able to take command of the game.

"That's exactly what it is, a relief," said left fielder Carl Crawford, when asked to explain the bullpen's recent stalwart performance. "It felt good today to get the game over with when we had the lead. We're definitely playing with that confidence."

Crawford had his own reasons to smile postgame after he slugged the eventual game-winning home run in the seventh inning. It was the All-Star's second game-winning long ball in the three-game series, and in doing so he's hit safely in 11 of his last 13 games (.372, 16-for-43).

Of course, it didn't hurt that Crawford is a career .426 (20-for-47) hitter off of Jays starter Josh Towers, either. Counting Wednesday's blast, Crawford has gone deep on Towers five times, more than against any other pitcher.

All told, five of Crawford's eight homers this season have come at Toronto's hand. So have 39 career steals, which is more than any other Major Leaguer can claim in the five-year span since Crawford made his Majors debut.

So which has pointed more to Crawford's recent success: Toronto's pitching or the beginning of a hot streak?

"I hope [it's a hot streak]," Crawford grinned. "We'll just have to see when this next series comes around."

Between the bullpen's efforts and Crawford's blast, the Rays nibbled away at each pitcher the Jays offered, and had collected 10 hits by the seventh inning. More importantly though, they fought back from a two-run deficit.

Tampa Bay got on the board in the third inning with Jonny Gomes' 12th homer of the season, a line drive over the center-field wall. It was the outfielder's fourth in the last five games.

The Rays then struck big in the sixth, when they tagged Towers for three runs.

Akinori Iwamura tripled to lead off the frame and set the stage for Crawford, who drove a two-run shot out of the park via right field. A rattled Towers then walked Carlos Pena, allowed Delmon Young to double, and was pulled in favor of Brandon League.

The next hitter, Brendan Harris, drove in Pena with a single to make it 4-2. Dioner Navarro doubled to open the seventh and advanced to third on a fielding error. He scored later on a sac fly from Iwamura, while Harris concluded the scoring with an RBI double in the eighth for the final margin.

Dawn Klemish is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.