Rays slug way to victory over Marlins

Rays take Interleague opener

ST. PETERSBURG -- If anybody personifies the spirit of the new Rays, it's two players who have been around the diamond -- Cliff Floyd and Troy Percival.

Each made a contribution to Friday night's 7-3 win over the Marlins, and the youngsters filled in the blanks in between as the Rays took the first game of a three-game series in front of a crowd of 19,312 at Tropicana Field.

Floyd, 35, has ginger knees, the kind that make a lot of players decide they'd rather find their way into an easy chair and a remote control than keep playing the game they love. He's already missed a month of the season due to right knee surgery. So he can't run, right?

Wrong, as the Marlins found out in the second inning of a 2-2 ballgame.

The veteran slugger had just drawn a one-out walk when he noticed that Marlins first baseman Mike Jacobs wasn't holding him on. Instincts took over and Floyd broke for second. Yeah, a good throw would have had the Rays' Big Daddy -- all 6-foot-4, 230 pounds of him -- but a good throw didn't arrive. Floyd bounced up, noticed the throw had gone into center field and headed to third.

In baseball circles, this is what's known as leaving it all on the field.

Floyd scored on Gabe Gross' double, and just like that, the Rays had a 3-2 lead -- a lead they would not relinquish for the remainder of the night.

"I wasn't expecting to do all of that, but I wanted to get something going and give us an opportunity in the bottom of the order to capitalize on an opportunity you don't get too often, because they didn't hold you on," Floyd said. "They didn't hold me on, so I took advantage."

Floyd, who last stole a base on June 14, 2006, then teased: "I knew I had it."

A chuckle and a wink followed.

"It was big, it was one of those inspirational moments for the entire team," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "He just went on his own, and I'm good with that. ... I thought it was a great play and it was inspirational for the whole group."

Tampa Bay maintained a steady flow of offense Friday night, banging out 13 hits while Rays pitching managed to shut down a hot-hitting Marlins team.

Andy Sonnanstine started for Tampa Bay, and allowed three runs on six hits and no walks while striking out five in 5 1/3 innings to pick up his seventh win of the season. This despite a rough first inning that saw Hanley Ramirez hit a triple on the first pitch of the game and score on Jeremy Hermida's double. Jacobs added a sacrifice fly and the Marlins had a 2-0 lead before the Rays had their first at-bats.

"Once again [Sonnanstine] started out slowly, but he picked it up," Maddon said. "I just think he started locating his fastball better. In the beginning, he wasn't throwing it where he wanted to."

The Rays scored two in the first, two in the second and added runs in the fifth, sixth and eighth innings to reach the final margin.

J.P. Howell followed Sonnanstine with two scoreless innings, which led to Dan Wheeler pitching two-thirds of an inning in the eighth before Percival made a successful return to action after spending time on the 15-day disabled list with a left hamstring strain.

Percival retired the Marlins in order in the ninth, striking out two, in his first outing since May 28.

"I sat for 15 days; I needed to get out there," Percival said. "Location was good. All the stuff will get better. I had just got my velocity back up to where I was pretty happy with it, now I have to build it back up."

Floyd and Percival bring a lot to the young Rays for what they can do on the field and what they bring to a clubhouse. But Percival had just one thought about Floyd's future where stolen bases are concerned.

"I think I don't want to see him do that very much," Percival said.

But Friday night, Big Daddy picked his spot, and it felt so good -- for everyone.

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