Slumping sluggers Carlos Pena and Pat Burrell broke out to drive in four of Tampa Bay's eight runs Friday, backing pitcher David Price to an 8-2 win over Kansas City in front of 26,596 at Tropicana Field.
Price went seven innings and gave up one run, five hits, two walks and struck out three to earn his first win since the All-Star break. The rookie improved to 3-1 at home this season and rebounded from a rough start in Toronto to display some of the tantalizing talent he possesses.
"I felt real good," Price said. "I was throwing good strikes, not just strikes but good strikes. They weren't able to take a whole lot of good swings. That's what you want to do, try and keep them off balance."
On a day every other team in the American League East retooled their rosters, the Rays stayed conspicuously silent, despite just losing a home series to New York and remaining two games behind Boston. But the club insists the awakening of a few big bats in the middle of the order may be all that's needed, and Friday offered a well-timed example.
Pena, in the throes of a slump that's seen him batting just .138 this month and dropped in the batting order, homered off the left-field foul pole in the first inning to give Tampa Bay a three-run lead.
Burrell added a triple and an RBI single in the fifth inning, just his 38th RBI in what has been a disappointing season for him offensively so far. Booed by the home crowd before the at-bat, Burrell has been a case all year of a player Maddon has been waiting to heat up. The same, too, could be said for catcher Dioner Navarro, who homered in the eighth inning, his sixth of the season.
"It's all about confidence," Maddon said. "When you get a couple good games in a row for some of these guys, there's no telling what they can do. They've done it before. They're fine, they're healthy, their work is good, they care. All that stuff will take care of itself."
Pena's July swoon has been especially discomforting for the Rays offense, which has hit a dry spell after spending the first months of the season near the top of baseball in several categories. An AL All-Star and Home Run Derby participant, Pena's hit just three homers and driven in 12 runs in the month.
His first-inning drive off the pole, however -- he said the first time he could remember doing that in his career -- was a good sign.
"That's always good, going the other way with strength and power is a good sign for any hitter," Pena said. "But for me, personally, I really like when I do that. It means I've stayed on that pitch pretty well."
The Rays could've added perhaps a few more runs if not for a bizarre play in the third inning. After a one-out triple by Carl Crawford and a walk to Evan Longoria, a line drive by Ben Zobrist ricocheted off Kansas City pitch Sidney Ponson's left forearm and was caught on the fly by second baseman Alberto Callaspo. Callaspo threw to first to double off Evan Longoria, but the ball hit his back and Longoria was safe. First baseman Billy Butler then fired to third base to double off Crawford, who had already reached home plate thinking the ball was in play. The result was an unusual 1-4-3-5 double play.
"I thought the ball had got through, so I just took off to home plate," Crawford said. "I don't even know the drill with that. It's just a wacky play."
Home plate umpire Charlie Reliford left after the bottom of the sixth inning after suffering a torn right calf. He was examined by Rays orthopedic surgeon Dr. Koko Eaton and is expected to be sidelined four to six weeks.
Friday's win added a bright note to what has been a somewhat frustrating month for Tampa Bay, which remains in the third place in the AL East despite a 12-12 record in July. The offense, though, has hit a snag: the Rays hit .229 while averaging just 3.7 runs per game in the month.
The optimistic feeling around the clubhouse, however, is that the division race is far from out of reach, and the bats are bound to revitalize. Friday night may well be the starting point.
"I have all the confidence in the world that we have everything we need to win," Pena said. "I think it's cool that way, to win the way it is. That's the way we'd like to get to the playoffs, with the same old group. That gives us that much more satisfaction."