"I'm glad we only play this club six times, because they are really a great ballclub right now," Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez said.
Sunday's win moved the Rays' record to 13-5 against National League competition this season. In addition, their fifth consecutive win matched their longest winning streak of the season, gave them their third sweep of the season, put them at seven games over .500 with a record of 42-35, and they passed the Blue Jays in the standings to move into third place in the AL East.
"We've played well," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "The two losses in Colorado, we got blown out against the Phillies, tough loss against the Mets. And the Marlins down there, they beat us with the five-man infield. So we played pretty well."
After surviving a week's worth of speculation about which pitcher in the starting rotation would be sent back to Triple-A Durham to make room for Scott Kazmir, David Price, who took Kazmir's place in the rotation when Kazmir went on the disabled list, made his first start since surviving the cut. And while the Rays prodigy didn't put forth his flashiest effort of the season, Sunday's outing certainly should be considered his most solid. Price allowed one run on two hits and five walks while striking out five to even his record at 2-2.
"David really pitched well today," Maddon said. "He utilized more of his offspeed pitches, better command of his fastball. [He was] a little bit out of sorts in the beginning, but then I thought he settled in really well. He looked very good towards the end."
Despite the success, Price felt like he had better stuff in his last outing, when he got pounded by the Phillies.
"I just pitched better today," Price said. "I got runners on and I was able to pitch out of it. That's what you have to do. You have to be able to continue to throw up zeroes and get our offense back out there."
|Teams with 100 home runs and 100 stolen bases before the All-Star break|
|Courtesy of ESPN|
Hanley Ramirez tested Price in the third and eventually won a battle of wills when he singled home a run in a 12-pitch at-bat to cut the lead to 2-1.
B.J. Upton answered for the Rays leading off the third when he deposited the first pitch from Marlins starter Andrew Miller into the left-field stands. Upton's sixth home run of the season also was Tampa Bay's 100th, earning the team the distinction of reaching 100 home runs and 100 stolen bases faster than any team in modern Major League history (since 1900).
"We're a good ballclub," Upton said. "Homers happen, but I think the more impressive thing about it is the stolen bases. It comes from Joe wanting us to run; he's giving us free reign to run when we want to. We put pressure on defenses, and I think with us on the basepaths, sometimes it causes pitchers to leave balls up over the plate sometimes. I think that's where the home runs come from."
Once Price finally ran out of gas with one out and one aboard in the seventh, Joe Nelson entered the game and immediately got an inning-ending double play. Nelson, who pitched for the Marlins in 2008, returned in the eighth to retire his former mates in order. Chad Bradford entered the game in the ninth and struggled before J.P. Howell took over. Howell hit the first batter he faced to load the bases, then walked the next hitter to force in a run. The left-hander redeemed himself by striking out the final two hitters he faced to end the game and earn his fifth save of the season.
Howell earned two wins and a save during the three-game series against the Marlins.
"[It was] very busy, it was fun, man -- it was a lot of fun," Howell said. "It's definitely what it's all about -- get to the All-Star break, take a few days, then do it again. But we have to take it one at a time until then."
The Rays are clicking and Maddon clearly loves what he's seeing.
"We're just playing better, getting all the components of the games working once again, which is great to see," Maddon said. "And then again, it starts with the pitching. That really makes all the difference in the world. So we're pitching better, and because of that, we're playing better.
"The defense, with [Jason Bartlett] back at shortstop, looks better. That at-bats have been really good. Of course, B.J. getting a little toasty helps also. We're just playing better baseball, the kind of baseball that we expect of ourselves."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.