Answering when they had to made all the difference for the Rays in an 8-3 win over the Mariners on Wednesday night at Safeco Field with 14,627 watching.
By winning, Tampa Bay moved to 20-7 on the season, thereby maintaining its Major League-best record. The Rays also claimed their fourth consecutive road series while improving to 11-1 away from home after starting the current nine-game trip with two wins.
After Seattle reached Tampa Bay starter Matt Garza for two in the fourth on a homer by Franklin Gutierrez, nobody in the ballpark would have been surprised to see Lee run away and hide. Instead the Rays' hitters answered in their next turn at bat.
Dioner Navarro started the rally with a one-out double to left and Gabe Kapler singled to drive him home. Jason Bartlett followed with a double to left that scored Kapler. And, suddenly, the Rays had tied the score against one of the best pitchers in baseball.
"He's tough, man, every inning of every game that I've ever seen him," Kapler said. "The combination of the three pitches he uses frequently -- his fastball, his cutter and his changeup, with all three kind of going different directions and different speeds and his ability to command it -- control the pace of the game, the tempo of the game. It's impressive.
"I think against a guy like him, against a guy like [CC] Sabathia, it's just battle mode. So from the standpoint of what's going on, we're grinding -- the hitters are just grinding."
Garza called the Rays' fifth "huge" in the scheme of Wednesday night's game.
"That gave me a lot more confidence going back out there for the bottom of the fifth, saying, 'These guys have my back, let's go. Let's ride out and get this done.'" Garza said.
The game remained tied at 2 through seven innings, until the Rays took the lead on Evan Longoria's RBI single in the eighth. The single extended Longoria's hitting streak to 11 games. Tampa Bay added two more in the eighth and three additional runs in the ninth to push the lead to 8-2.
Lee allowed four earned runs on 10 hits in eight innings to take the loss.
"They have a pretty good lineup," Lee said. "I have to do a better job after we get the lead there in the fourth. We score two runs, then I go back out there and give up two runs to tie the game back up. I have to do a better job of keeping our team with the lead and getting us back in the dugout.
"They're a good hitting team, and they're in first place in that division for a reason. I threw strikes, forced them to swing the bat, didn't walk anyone. I just have to make some better pitches there in the fifth when we have the 2-0 lead to keep us ahead in that game right there."
Meanwhile, the other ace, Garza, trumped the more heralded Lee. The Rays right-hander allowed just two runs on five hits in eight innings to pick up his fifth win of the season against one loss.
"You have to be on top of your game when you face a guy like [Lee]," Garza said. "The past few seasons, he's practically dominated with every team he's been on. You just have to go in there with a good game plan and fight. You have to last as long as he does or try to last longer. That's all I can say."
The Rays are now 3-1 on the season against former Cy Young Award winners, beating Zack Grienke, Lee and Jake Peavy, while losing to Sabathia.
Game-time temperature for Wednesday night's contest was 51 degrees, which has been the theme for most of the road games Tampa Bay has played all season, leaving manager Joe Maddon to wonder what might happen to his road warriors once the weather begins to heat up this summer.
"It's going to be quite a test, isn't it, when the temperature exceeds 70 degrees at some point?" said Maddon with a twinkle in his eye.
You get the feeling Maddon isn't really too concerned about the weather. Such is life at the top of the standings.