Carl Crawford became Thursday afternoon's hero when he drove home two with a seventh-inning single to lead the Rays to a 4-2 win over the Orioles in front of a crowd of 16,456 at Camden Yards.
The win is the Rays' eighth in their last nine games, and secured their third consecutive series, while taking sole possession of second place in the American League East with a record of 16-12, marking the latest in club history the team has been four games over .500.
Shawn Riggans started the winning rally when he walked to lead off the seventh. Jason Bartlett then singled to center and center fielder Adam Jones mishandled the ball, allowing the runners to move into scoring position. Left-hander Jamie Walker entered the game at this point and struck out left-handed-hitting Akinori Iwamura, but the strategy did not work against Crawford, who lined a single into center field to score both runners and give the Rays the lead.
"Just up there trying to get that run in from third any way I can, just make contact," Crawford said. "I ended up getting a base hit out of it."
Matt Garza made his fourth start of the season for the Rays and had his best outing, allowing two runs on three hits, while walking two and striking out three en route to his first win. Jones' two-run homer brought the only blemish to Garza's line.
"Garza pitched much better, save for one pitch -- the hanger to Jones," Maddon said. "Much better strike throwing, the velocity has always been there. Better strike throwing and he pitched primarily with his fastball, which I liked, and then saved the slider and breaking ball for certain occasions. But, yeah, he did a nice job today."
Dan Wheeler took over in the seventh and pitched two scoreless innings, retiring all six batters he faced, leading up to Troy Percival, who retired the O's in order in the ninth to claim his sixth save of the season.
"The whole bullpen's been doing a great job all year," Maddon said. "But those two guys in particular have been pretty much spectacular."
Percival is a leader in the Rays' clubhouse, a seasoned veteran amid a sea of kids. He has observed the club's behavior and he likes what he's seen.
"You don't like the highs too high and you don't like to ride the lows too low," Percival said. "So get the guys out there, just play the game as hard as we can every day and I think a good, consistent attitude and approach is going to help us."
Percival thinks the team's attitude is unusual for a club so young.
"It is, especially considering the past that this organization has had without a lot of winning," Percival said. "The guys are handling this with a lot of composure because we know it's early. We know we'll probably hit a slide here and there. As long as we just keep playing consistent and hard, the guys' attitudes are really going to help us out."
One thing, Percival is not is surprised.
"I foresaw this in Spring Training, that we could compete like this. It was just a matter of staying away from the stupid young mistakes," Percival said. "Early on, we hit a little streak where we made a lot of mistakes, and right now we're not and it's showing. We're out there playing good baseball. And trust me, that's a good team we're playing over there."
So now the team heads to Boston to play the Red Sox in a showdown for first place. Crawford smiled when asked if Rays-Red Sox in a first-place showdown in May sounded odd.
"Yeah, a little bit, because we've never been in that position before," Crawford said. "But it's still early, and it's exciting for the fans in [the Tampa Bay area] and Boston, where we're going, to just go out there and try and treat it like the rest of the games we've been playing."