Rays rebound with six-run first inning

Rays rebound with six-run first inning

DETROIT -- Six runs in the first spoke volumes about the Rays on Monday afternoon.

On Sunday, the Rays watched a two-run lead vanish when Placido Polanco hit a three-run homer with two outs in the eighth. Rather than stew over the defeat Monday, the Rays got busy early by scoring six runs in the first inning en route to an 11-7 win over the Tigers at Comerica Park.

"After yesterday's game, that was a tough loss for us, and the way we came back today, that shows me that this team has a lot of character," said James Shields, who started for the Rays and earned his ninth win of the season.

Carlos Pena said the team felt Sunday's loss.

"Yesterday was tough to take," Pena said. "We thought we had the game in our hands and it slipped away, so for all of us, it was very difficult.

"But one thing that is very important. We need to roll with the punches sometime. And we need to bounce back and turn the page."

By winning, the Rays tucked away a 4-3 mark on their seven-game road trip, their first winning road trip since going 6-4 against the Royals, White Sox and Blue Jays from July 17-26. The win also moved the Rays to within five games of the Red Sox in the American League Wild Card race with a three-game series against Boston on the horizon.

Jason Bartlett singled off Tigers starter Jarrod Washburn to start the game. Gabe Kapler walked, then Ben Zobrist doubled home Bartlett. Pat Burrell followed with a two-run double and Evan Longoria added an RBI double before Carlos Pena connected for his 38th home run of the season to make it 6-0 Rays.

"Carlos hitting the two-run homer was very big, putting the exclamation point on the first inning, which was very important, I thought," Rays manager Joe Maddon said.

Pena finished August with 12 home runs, the second-most for a month in club history behind his record of 13 (September 2007) and he finished the game with three hits and four RBIs.

"I'll say this, and I mean this very sincerely, that's the best I've seen Carlos swing the bat -- this little stretch -- since I've seen him here," Maddon said. "That's the best mechanically correct swing he's had and I'm really enjoying watching it. I've been telling him that. ... From my perspective, it's his best Rays hack."

The six-run first-inning outburst was the second time this season the Rays had scored six in the first; they accomplished the feat May 18 against Oakland when they defeated the A's 13-4 at Tropicana Field. In addition, it was the first time the Rays had scored six runs in the first inning on the road since July 4, 2002, at Texas when they lost 11-8. The last team to lead 6-0 after its first six batters of the game was the Cardinals against the Pirates on Aug. 12, 2003.

Shields was the beneficiary of the support, which seemed fitting since the Rays had scored just four runs in the first inning in his previous 20 starts.

"When the team goes out there and gets a 6-0 lead, you have to throw strikes," Shields said. "I was actually struggling with that today. My ball was high for the most part. I made some 3-1 pitches for a couple of flyouts that kind of helped out a little bit, but when you get a good lead like that, you've got to keep the game moving and keep our hitters ready to go."

Detroit's Alex Avila complimented Shields for the way he pitched with the lead.

"He was able to make his pitches and throw his offspeed stuff for strikes and keep us off-balance," Avila said.

Detroit's Carlos Guillen gave Shields the most trouble as he went 4-for-4 with two home runs and four RBIs against the Rays right-hander.

"He pretty much owned me today," Shields said. "He's a pretty good hitter."

Fortunately for the Rays, they were able to add runs in the fifth and sixth before scoring three more in the seventh. Bartlett and Longoria each had three hits on a day that the Rays cobbled together 14 hits.

The Rays flew home Monday night knowing they will have an opportunity to chip away at the Red Sox's lead starting Tuesday night.

"It's much better going into the Boston series having won a game like this today," Maddon said. "And also, I like the offense. ... We scored that many runs against some good pitching, good at-bats, spread out pretty well. Carlos is looking extremely well right now.

"... Overall just a nice win, we did some nice things. Shieldsy held it together. But it was just nice to jump out on top."

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