Leave it to Joe Madden to provide anunconventional view of Tampa Bay's ability to keep finding ways towin close games.
The Rays improved baseball's best record to 26-11 on Sunday,rallying in the late innings for the second straight day to beatCliff Lee and the Seattle Mariners 2-1.
Some superb pitching and defense made it possible, along with acouple of timely hits that left Maddon using a football analogy todescribe why the AL East leaders are thriving despite gettinginconsistent offensive production.
"How about this: I've got defense and pitching as the groundgame. Hitting is the passing game," Maddon began. "Right nowwe're playing a good ground game, and it seems to be working. Andthat's what I'm digging."
Sean Rodriguez delivered a seventh-inning double and Gabe Kapleradded an eight-inning sacrifice fly as the Rays overcame afrustrating afternoon against Lee, who took a 1-0 lead into theseventh by limiting them to doubles by B.J. Upton and Willy Aybarup to that point.
Upton doubled again with one out in the seventh, then scoredwhen Rodriguez followed with his hit off the right-centerfieldwall. Carl Crawford tripled into the left field corner, just beyondthe reach of Michael Saunders, and scored on Kapler's sacrificefly.
Tampa Bay trailed 2-0 in the eighth before rallying to win 3-2.The Mariners have lost 11 games in an opponent's final at-bat, ninein the last three weeks.
"We're coming through when we need to. We'll take that, butwe're definitely going to have to help them out at some point,"Crawford said of Tampa Bay's starting pitching.
"They're picking up the slack for us," Crawford added. "Weknow it's going to be tough for them to do that all year, butthey're doing a really good job so far."
Dan Wheeler (2-0) retired the only two batters he faced to getthe win. Rafael Soriano got the final three outs for his 10th savein 10 opportunities.
The Rays beat Lee (1-2) for the second time in 11 days, rallyingin the late innings for the second straight game to improvebaseball's top record to 26-11. Lee allowed two runs and five hitsover eight innings for his first complete game of the season and14th overall.
Saunders drove in Seattle's run with a fifth-inning single offRays starter Matt Garza. Ichiro Suzuki went 0 for 4, ending hisstreak of seven consecutive multihit games.
Garza and the Rays beat Lee in Seattle on May 5, snapping TampaBay's four-game losing streak against the 2008 Cy Young winner bymanaging five runs and 10 hits over eight innings.
Lee was much tougher on them this time, striking out 10.Although he had a fielding error in the first, when he also walkeda batter for the first time this season, the left-hander kept theRays in check most of the day by retiring the first eight battershe faced with runners in scoring position.
"That's a heck of a performance," Mariners manager DonWakamatsu. "We should win that ball game."
Upton's double in the second inning was hit hard into the gap inleft center, but Aybar's hit in the fourth was a pop fly to shallowright center that fell in front of Suzuki and Franklin Gutierrez.
Aybar moved to third when Hank Blalock grounded to first,however that's as close as the Rays came to scoring. Lee escaped bygetting Upton to ground to third and Dioner Navarro to groundshortstop to end the threat.
"They've got a good lineup, there's no doubt," Lee said."There's a reason why they're winning as many games as they are.They've got five pretty good starters and pretty good lineup."
NOTES: Garza allowed one run and five hits in six innings. ...Ken Griffey Jr went 0-for-4 with one strikeout. He hasn't homeredin 84 at bats, the longest such stretch to start a season in hiscareer. ... Mariners DH Mike Sweeney has a sore lower and isday-to-day. ... Rays LHP J.P. Howell, on the DL with a shoulderstrain, will pitch a simulated game Monday. He could begin a rehabassignment later in the week. ... Tampa Bay 1B Carlos Pena, who'sin a 3 for 49 slump that's dropped his batting average to .180, didnot start. He entered the game as a defensive replacement in theninth. Blalock, who joined the Rays on Saturday when Pat Burrellwas designated for assignment, started at first and went 0 for 3with two strikeouts in his debut.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times