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Zobrist's double carries Rays past A's

Zobrist's double carries Rays

OAKLAND -- Ben Zobrist is serving his fourth tour of duty with the Rays this season.

In two years, he has gone from being the team's starting shortstop to riding the shuttle between Triple-A Durham and the Rays. But like so many of the players on this year's team, he has found a way to contribute. And Wednesday night he contributed with the game-winning hit, when he doubled with two outs in the seventh to give the Rays a 3-2 win over the A's in front of 21,438 at McAfee Coliseum.

The Rays moved to 72-47 on the season, in addition to maintaining their three-game lead in the American League East over the second-place Red Sox, who defeated the Rangers, 8-4. The Rays are now 4-2 on their current 10-game, three-stop road trip, and they improved to just three games under .500 on the road.

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"Feels great," Zobrist said. "Things aren't going the greatest for us injury-wise. So myself, Willy [Aybar], [Eric] Hinske, [Gabe] Gross, [Justin] Ruggiano, all of us who haven't been playing on a regular basis this year, we have to step up, like I was able to do that on that at-bat right there, and it just feels great."

Rays manager Joe Maddon likes what he has seen of Zobrist this time around.

"He's getting better," Maddon said. "You look at him on defense, he's getting more consistency at fielding grounded balls and his throwing is better. His at-bats from both sides of the plate have gotten better. Not only that, he's hit for more power. There's more force in his swing.

"He's done a great job for us; he's been very valuable for us. And again, I felt good about him in that situation. I know he's going to throw out a good at-bat out there."

Maddon added that Zobrist overall looks more comfortable playing the game, an observation with which Zobrist agreed.

"I think I was afraid to fail a little bit before," Zobrist said. "I've been through that. You kind of have to go through that before you can succeed, and hopefully I'm on the rise now."

Andy Sonnanstine started for the Rays and held the A's to two runs on six hits and a walk while striking out six to earn his 12th win of the season, which made him the quickest to reach a dozen wins in club history. He surpassed Rolando Arrojo, who reached 12 wins in the 135th game of 1998.

"I thought Sonnie had really good stuff tonight," Maddon said. "The last two outings I thought his stuff was as good as I've seen him in a long time. Velocity, fastball, location on the fastball, break on the breaking pitch -- it wasn't flat. It had depth. And I thought he pitched inside a little better tonight, too."

The Rays got home runs from Carlos Pena in the first and Hinske in the second to give Sonnanstine an early cushion.

Sonnanstine got some help from Rays fielders when Mark Ellis singled to left field with two outs in the third. Kurt Suzuki attempted to score from second on the play, but Hinske quickly retrieved the ball and threw home. Third baseman Aybar cut off the throw and delivered a perfect relay to catcher Dioner Navarro, who tagged Suzuki for the third out.

"That was unusual, that rarely ever occurs," Maddon said. "The ball was hit so hard, A, and B, Hinske got it in quickly. You might see that play once a year, to have a guy thrown out at the plate. I've seen the Yankees with [Hideki] Matsui and [Derek] Jeter do that extremely well. He gets the ball in quickly, then Jeter, boom, throws.

"But that was just a reaction play by Willy out there. Again, I know Willy has the game awareness. He knew how hard that ball was hit and he knew he got it quickly enough to do what he did. That's what I saw. That was a great instinctive play by Hinske and Aybar."

Sonnanstine found trouble again in the fifth, when Eric Patterson doubled with the bases loaded to tie the score at 2. One out later, his fielders again bailed him out by turning a 5-4-3, inning-ending double play.

After Sonnanstine left the game, the Rays' bullpen once again put forth a solid effort. Grant Balfour pitched a scoreless seventh and Dan Wheeler a scoreless eighth to feed into closer Troy Percival, who got the final three outs of the game to preserve the win while earning his 27th save of the season.

Wednesday night's win came a night after the Rays lost a close one that was riddled with mistakes. So the turnaround felt significant.

Wednesday night's win is "big after yesterday, because yesterday wasn't our best day for sure," Zobrist said. "So to come back and have a close game again and to pull it out puts our confidence right back up there, and we're ready to go get them again tomorrow."

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

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