SEATTLE -- Not even a brutal road swing through the cold northwest can slow down Tampa Bay.
These aren't the 2009 Rays."We're a little bit more prepared, more focused. We're going day to day, not trying to go to the World Series in April," James Shields said after he won his fourth consecutive start while striking out 10 on Tuesday night.
Baseball Tonight Clubhouse
The Rays are rolling, the Mariners are struggling. Will it continue Wednesday, or will Cliff Lee help halt Tampa Bay and redirect Seattle? Story
Evan Longoria homered again to back Shields, and the ultra-focused Rays continued their joyride through the American League with a 5-2 victory over the Mariners on Tuesday night.Tampa Bay is off to the best start in the AL since the 2005 Chicago White Sox also began 19-7. The last team to start better was the 2001 Mariners who went 20-6 en route to an AL-record 116 wins.Last season, the Rays came off their first World Series appearance complacent, entitled -- and 11-15 at this point.Now, manager Joe Maddon is wowed by how many of his players showed up for early hitting Tuesday, and were inside studying films and scouting reports four hours before the first pitch.So he doesn't see complacency anymore?"Oh, no," Maddon said, rubbing his chin. "Last year is still fresh in our minds."Shields (4-0) followed his career high-tying 12 strikeouts in his previous start against Oakland by allowing eight hits and two runs. He left after the first two Mariners singled in the ninth.Rafael Soriano got the final three outs, including Jack Wilson on a three-pitch strikeout for his seventh save in seven tries. The Rays improved the major league's best road ERA to 2.21 and baseball's best road record to 10-1. The 2001 Mariners also started 10-1 on the road.Longoria had three hits, including his second home run is as many games in the fifth. The solo shot soared to the deepest part of the park beyond left-center field off Jason Vargas.Reid Brignac, filling in for resting shortstop Jason Bartlett, added an RBI single on the 48-degree night that far colder than that by game's end.Maddon joked it was a two-hoodie night at least.It was even colder in the other dugout. Seattle has scored six runs in its last four games, all home losses.Now even the Mariners' vaunted defense is betraying them. They had four errors, three by usually reliable shortstop Wilson. He had three errors in 23 games entering Tuesday.His last one was for falling over his own feet while throwing to first on a ground ball by Carlos Pena in the seventh."There is no excuse for the lack of defense with this club," manager Don Wakamatsu said. "Watching that game, I don't know if anyone in this clubhouse is proud."Milton Bradley was 0 for 3 and struck out twice in his first game as the cleanup batter since April 9. When Bradley struck out looking again with the bases loaded and Seattle down 3-1 in the sixth, Wakamatsu yanked baseball's self-described bad guy from the game.Bradley was not in the stadium immediately afterward. Multiple Mariners said he was "not good," though Wakamatsu deflected thoughts of an incident with a fiery slugger who is on his eighth team in 10 seasons."We just felt at that time, what went on with the two strikeouts, it was time to get him out of the ball game," Wakamatsu said. "It was just time to get him out."How bad have Seattle's fans soured on the Mariners' offense? The crowd of 14,589 -- the second-lowest in Safeco Field's 10-year history -- booed Ken Griffey Jr. after the 40-year-old civic icon swung over a pitch that skimmed the dirt. That ended the "rally" in the sixth and kept the home team down 3-1.Griffey was 0 for 4 with an RBI groundout in the ninth. He is batting .210 and has one extra-base hit in 19 games.Seattle's latest embarrassment came after Wakamatsu held an afternoon meeting to stress better fundamentals from his hitters.Through it all another Mariners starter deserved better. Vargas (2-2) allowed just four hits and three runs while striking out a career-high eight in 6 2/3 innings.
Soriano pitched in Seattle for the first time since Aug. 29, 2006, when he was still with the Mariners. ... The last time Safeco Field had a game-time temperature in the 40s in May was May 11, 2008. ... Rays CF B.J. Upton was not in the lineup for the first time this season, though he pinch-ran for Aybar in the seventh and stayed in the game. Bartlett rested for only the third time. Maddon said he saw it as a good chance to get each two days off, following Monday's travel day. ... It was the fifth time in Seattle history a Mariners SS had three errors in a game. The last was by Mike Morse on July 20, 2005.