Rays sitting pretty after ugly win

Rays sitting pretty after ugly win

KANSAS CITY -- A month-long winning drought on the road can really make you notice true beauty.

The Rays know. They were gushing over Friday's 5-3 win against the Royals, even though there was plenty of ugliness abounded.

Tampa Bay barely scratched their way past Kansas City, leaving 10 runners left on base, and going 2-for-13 with runners in scoring position.

Oh well, it's all in the eye of the beholder. And this beholder had dumped seven straight away from the Trop. With each road loss, the Rays' lead in the AL East kept getting slimmer. With the win on Friday and a Red Sox loss to the Yankees, Tampa Bay is a game ahead of Boston.

"Now that you mention it," Carlos Pena said about the road win, "it's good to get that out of the way. ... Playing on the road is going to make the difference."

Pena sealed the win on Friday with a two-out, two-run home run in the top of the ninth. At the time, the Rays were up just 3-2.

His hit took away the drama. Good, because there was plenty of it before then for the crowd of 31,535 at Kauffman Stadium.

Relievers Grant Balfour, J.P. Howell and Dan Wheeler worked out of late-inning messes.

Balfour and Howell each dealt with an inherited runner in the sixth and seventh innings, making it out unscathed. Wheeler did the same in the eighth with the bases loaded, facing Esteban German, and got him to ground out to second base for the final out.

"We kept picking each other up," Howell said. "That was what was so beautiful about it. It was maybe a little ugly before that, but that was the pretty part. ... We kept getting each other's back. That's key. That shows a good team. No superstars in that situation, just a good team."

Pena's home run meant even more because Troy Percival gave up a solo shot to Ross Gload before picking up his 21st save.

"Always nice for them to have some breathing room," Pena said. "We don't take anyone lightly, so, believe me, a little breathing room is huge."

Jackson had a no-hitter through 4 2/3 innings, but all of a sudden, things began to unravel suddenly. One batter got on because of a walk and another because of a wild pitch on strike three. It didn't matter because Jackson forced double plays, preventing them from getting in scoring position.

It started falling apart for Jackson in the fifth. He got two outs, and then gave up a home run to Billy Butler. No more no-hitter.

The sixth opened with a homer from John Buck, and then a walk to Mitch Meier. An inning earlier, Jackson hadn't given up a hit. Now, he was gone. Despite Jackson being in control for so long and having thrown 74 pitches, manager Joe Maddon took him out of the game.

He knew that Jackson had been sitting for a while because the top of the fifth inning had been so long. When Jackson gave up a home run and a quick walk, and the top of the order awaited, Maddon decided to pull him.

"It wasn't so much a lack of confidence in him," Maddon said, "as much as there's confidence in the bullpen."

Let's see. A good starting pitching performance, relievers performing well under pressure, a clutch hit by Pena and of course, that long-awaited win on the road. Maybe the Rays are right. Friday night's game wasn't so ugly.

Whatever it takes to help them sleep at night.

"Sleeping in a hotel is kind of difficult anyway," Maddon said, "so after a victory it's much easier to sleep on a foreign bed. If we want to make it to the promised land, we have to win on the road."

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