Rays dominate from get-go in opener

Rays dominate from get-go

MIAMI -- The Rays needed three runs in the ninth inning to beat the Athletics in walk-off fashion on Thursday.

But in the opener of Interleague Play against the Marlins on Friday, the dramatics ended after the second inning.

By that point, Tampa Bay had an eight-run lead and cruised the rest of the way en route to a 15-2 thump of Florida at Land Shark Stadium to kick off the unofficially named "Citrus Series."

For the Rays -- winners of six of their last eight games -- it equaled their highest run production of the season -- they also beat the Yankees, 15-5, on April 13. It was also their largest margin of victory, matching a 13-0 beating of the Red Sox on April 30.

After six of its last seven games were decided by three runs or less, this was a blowout Tampa Bay desperately needed.

"I guess it was one of those games," said catcher Dioner Navarro, who came in 3-for-17 in his last six games but finished 4-for-6. "We went out there strong, we got out of the box swinging and we kept on swinging, and I think everybody knows that we're never going to quit.

"Hopefully we saved some for [Saturday]."

Gabe Gross led the offense by going 3-for-5 with a home run and four RBIs, and Carlos Pena, Jason Bartlett and Navarro had three RBIs each as the Rays rocked Marlins starter Ricky Nolasco and reliever Dave Davidson.

Bartlett got things going with a two-run double in the first. Then, in a second inning that saw 10 Rays carousel to the plate, Tampa Bay put up six runs -- five of which came on a two-run homer by Navarro and a three-run homer by Pena that gave him 15 on the year.

By the time Nolasco, the Marlins' Opening Day starter, finished his two-inning start, he had already thrown 67 pitches. The Marlins collectively threw 225.

After the game, Nolasco -- who sports a 9.07 ERA through nine starts this year -- was optioned to Triple-A New Orleans.

In the third, Davidson -- called up from the Minor Leagues on Thursday and designated for assignment after the game -- didn't do any better, as he gave up five runs in an inning that saw him throw 52 pitches to 11 batters.

"Good at-bat after good at-bat, working good counts," Maddon said. "I know [the Marlins'] bullpen had been a little bit tired, and that's why it's so important to do what we did tonight on top of that to keep them tired."

Even Rays starter Andy Sonnanstine got in on the action.

Sonnanstine, who was forced to bat in the three-spot after a lineup mix-up in his last start against the Indians on Sunday, came in leading all active pitchers with a .385 batting average (5-for-13). On Friday, he went 1-for-4 with a walk and two runs scored.

"I love playing Interleague," Sonnanstine said with a smirk.

"He really works at his hitting, man," Maddon said. "He just loves the National League game. We played one the other day in an American League city, and he happened to be the participant, so Sonny really gets into it."

On the mound, the 26-year-old right-hander was on cruise control with the big lead, as he gave up just one run through six innings while giving up five hits and no walks. His only mistake was a 2-2 fastball to star shortstop Hanley Ramirez, who deposited it over the left-field scoreboard for a solo homer in the fourth.

"It takes a lot of the pressure off," Sonnanstine said about the early cushion. "I went out there with that big lead and was just attacking hitters, knowing that if I make a mistake it's not going to hurt too bad."

The Marlins played a 22-inning doubleheader against the D-backs on Wednesday and had a depleted bullpen thereafter.

So by the time the ninth inning came around, they called on first baseman/outfielder Ross Gload to toe the rubber. It was the third time the Rays had faced a regular position player this season, with the other two being the Yankees' Nick Swisher (April 13) and the Red Sox's Jonathan Van Every (April 30).

"I just wanted to put the ball in play because I know that if I would've struck out or something, I wasn't going to hear the end of it," said Navarro, who grounded into a 5-6-3 double play. "After I got two strikes, I was trying to put the ball in play and make something happen."

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