After losing three consecutive games, Wednesday night's win came at just the right time for the Rays, who have yet to hit full stride with a record of 30-31 on the season.
The Rays fell behind, 3-0, before scoring five in the second, two in the third and two in the fifth to build a 9-5 lead. Carlos Pena homered in the third as did Willy Aybar in the fifth on a night that saw Rays hitters pound out 11 hits.
Pena's 18th homer of the season left him trailing Mark Teixeira for the American League lead by one. Perhaps more significant was the fact that the Rays first baseman homered to the opposite field, which normally can be read as a good sign that he is about to go on a hot streak.
"That was really nice," Pena said. "I was happy, first of all to be able to contribute. To drive the ball like that feels awesome. ... To come out and do what we did against a quality pitcher says a lot about our approach at the plate."
Angels starter John Lackey brought into the game a 9-1 record and a 2.36 ERA in 11 career starts against the Rays. But the veteran right-hander wasn't the same pitcher the Rays have seen in the past, as he surrendered eight earned runs in five innings.
"You've got to give those guys credit," Lackey said. "They battled on the good pitches I threw and hit the ball on the bad pitches that I threw."
Maddon noted that all of Lackey's history against the Rays came during another era in franchise history.
"It's a different group right now," Maddon said. "And I'm not denigrating John in any way, but we're a different group right now. And you can look at what [Tim] Wakefield has done against [Tampa Bayy] in the past, and we've been able to come back against him. It's a different ballclub.
"The guys here have no interest in that negative history. So we just have to keep moving it forward and a lot of the stuff people have piled on in the past, I'd like to believe that's over."
Jeff Niemann started for the Rays on seven days' rest due to Friday night's rainout in New York and flip-flopping places in the rotation with James Shields. He responded with 48 strikes among the 91 pitches he threw to get an early hook after 3 2/3 innings. He allowed four earned runs on seven hits, walking three and striking out three.
"You know, that's debatable," said Niemann, when asked if the extra time between starts added some rust. "I was a little bit out of whack, but even if it is five days, I could be out of whack. It was just one of those days that it wasn't coming easy. I was up with the fastball, down with the curveball. I was just a hair off."
Fortunately for the Rays, Lance Cormier wasn't off, despite being off the mound since May 28. The Rays' long man rescued Niemann with 2 1/3 scoreless innings that saw him allow just two hits to pick up his first win of the season.
Jason Isringhausen, Joe Nelson, and Dan Wheeler then picked up the final three innings, allowing no runs to preserve the win.
"Great job [by the bullpen]," Maddon said. "Lance has not pitched in two weeks, so I was concerned he wouldn't be sharp. I knew he was rested and I didn't know how sharp he could be and he was. He got better as he went along. Then Izzy looked good; and Nellie. And of course Dan at the end; it was a great job by the guys."
Wednesday night's win was the 11th time the Rays have scored nine or more runs in a win this season. Unfortunately, only four times have they responded with a win in the game following one of those wins.
Maddon hopes the Rays can build on Wednesday night's win on Thursday rather than coming up empty.
"You've got to win some close games, too," Maddon said. "Sometimes your offense isn't going to score nine runs. We've got to be able to pitch and catch it, too. We've been talking about that all along."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.