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Friday, September 28, 2012
Rays' rally all about the fantastic finish

By Mark Simon


U.S. Presswire/Kim KlementJoe Maddon has given the Rays late-game efforts a big thumbs-up.
A year removed from the miracle that was Game 162 of the 2011 season, the Tampa Bay Rays have worked their way back into this wild card race with an eight-game winning streak.

The Rays are even with the Los Angeles Angels in the standings, two games behind the Oakland Athletics and three games behind the Baltimore Orioles, with whom they close the season.

What’s been key to this surge? Some of the same elements that came into play in the days leading up to Game 162 a year ago.

Timely hitting
A quick check of the stats would indicate that the offense has been overpowering. That was true for the first half of the win streak, when the Rays hit ridiculously well.

But in the last four games, the offense has reverted back to the form it showed for most of the season, as the chart on the right shows.

The back end of the winning streak has been highlighted by repeated late-game success in pressure situations both for their hitters and pitchers.

Case in point:

Sunday -- The Rays turned a 1-0 eighth-inning lead into a 3-0 cushion on Evan Longoria's two-run double.

Tuesday -- A sixth-inning single by Jose Molina produced two runs, extending a one-run lead to a three-run lead in an eventual 5-2 victory over the Red Sox

Wednesday -- A seventh-inning RBI double by Jose Lobaton turned a one-run lead into a two-run lead in a 4-2 win in Fenway Park.

Thursday -- Longoria’s ninth-inning home run off Brett Myers snapped a 2-2 tie and gave the Rays a 3-2 win over the White Sox.

The interesting thing about this is that it runs counter to what the Rays offense has done all season. The Rays have rarely gotten offense when they needed it.

Tampa Bay ranks last in the majors in runs scored (143), batting average (.201), and OPS (.591) from the seventh inning on in 2012.

Seventh Inning = Game Over
The Rays pitching staff has succeeded in turning these games into six-inning contests.

In the last three innings during this win streak, opponents are hitting .184 with a .507 OPS.

In the last four games, Rays’ pitchers have been impossible to score against in the last three innings.

In them, Rays opponents have not scored a run in innings seven through nine, and they’ve managed just five hits in 42 at-bats.

Rays pitchers have been able to thwart overeager hitters with soft stuff. David Price, normally reliant on his fastball, got six of his last nine outs on Tuesday with offspeed pitches. Fernando Rodney has gotten six outs with changeups in his last four appearances, including game-ending strikeouts in the last two.

Looking ahead
Late-game success may again play a large role on Friday night because the Rays are facing one of their biggest nemeses. White Sox starter Gavin Floyd is 4-1 with a 2.57 ERA in five career starts against them.

The good news for the Rays -- he may not be around at game’s end, when the Rays are just warming up. Floyd has only pitched into the seventh inning once in his last six starts.