ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) -- Rays fans rose to their feet and cheered on Troy Percival.
Most nights, the Tampa Bay closer earns a save for a perfect ninth. This time, he gave the Rays a lift by just being back on the mound after spending the past two weeks on the disabled list with a hamstring strain."He's a guy that brings a lot of veteran leadership to this team, and him being activated does a lot for our ballclub," winning pitcher Andy Sonanstine said after the 38-year-old reliever struck out the first two batters of the ninth, then got the final out in a 7-3 victory over the Florida Marlins on a grounder to shortstop."I felt fine. I felt good. No problems," Percival said.
Going Swimmingly So Far
It's mid-June and the Tampa Bay Rays are still relevant in the AL East. That hasn't been said much in the last four seasons. In fact, this is the first time in that span the Rays are less than 11.5 games out of first in the division. Here's a look:
Rays On June 13, Since 2005 Season
GB in AL East
Eric Hinske and Dioner Navarro drove in two runs apiece for the Rays, who pulled within 1 1/2 games of first-place Boston in the AL East.Hinske's first-inning double off Ryan Tucker (1-1) wiped out a quick two-run lead the Marlins took against Sonnanstine (7-3), who settled after a shaky opening inning to win for the first time in nearly a month.Navarro's RBI grounder put Tampa Bay up 5-3 in the fifth, then he added a run-scoring single off Joe Nelson in the eighth. Gabe Gross, Akinori Iwamura and Jason Bartlett also drove in runs for the Rays.Sonnanstine, 0-2 in four starts since last winning at St. Louis on May 16, allowed three runs and six hits in 5 1-3 innings. J.P. Howell and Dan Wheeler held the Marlins scoreless in the middle innings, and Percival worked the ninth despite it being a non-save situation."I don't care about that any more," said Percival, who missed 12 games while he was on the DL. "I just like to go out there and put up a zero."The first of six games between intrastate foes who have never developed a true rivalry drew a crowd of only 19,312 to Tropicana Field, even though both teams are off to terrific starts that have them in second place in their divisions.It's just the second time in the 11 seasons the clubs have met that both carried winning records into the Citrus Series.A night after being limited to three hits in a 3-0 loss to Philadelphia, the Marlins scored twice in the first against Sonnanstine, with the first three batters of the game -- Hanley Ramirez, Jeremy Hermida and Jorge Cantu -- reaching base on a triple, double and single.The Rays got the runs back on Hinske's two-run double. They added two more in the second to go up 4-2, with Cliff Floyd scoring the first run after walking and stealing second for his first stolen base in two years.Sonnanstine regrouped after his shaky first inning to retire 12 in a row before Cody Ross doubled to left with one out in the fifth."He settled down, and he threw strikes. He didn't get himself in trouble," Florida manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "He did a fine job."Alfredo Amezaga's RBI single trimmed Florida's deficit to 4-3, however Sonnanstine escaped further damage by getting Matt Treanor to hit a dribbler back to the mound and Ramirez to pop out to end the inning with Amezaga on second.The Rays wiggled out of another tight situation in the sixth after Sonnanstine gave up a leadoff double to Hermida. Howell replaced the Tampa Bay starter with one out and gave up an infield single to Mike Jacobs before Dan Uggla popped to second and Luis Gonzalez flied to left.Tucker, who pitched five strong innings to beat Cincinnati in his big league debut last Sunday, allowed five runs and seven hits in five innings. The 21-year-old right-hander walked three and struck out two."I've got to keep myself under control," Tucker said, "try and do a better job keeping my team in the game."
The Rays played without LF Carl Crawford, who began serving a four-game suspension for his role in last week's bench-clearing brawl in Boston. ... Rays OF Jonny Gomes returned from his five-game suspension for his part in the brawl, but was not in the lineup. ... Percival had not pitched since May 28. ... To make room on the roster, RHP Al Reyes (right shoulder tendinitis) was placed on the DL, retroactive to June 10. ... The Marlins' 106-84 interleague record is the best among NL teams. They are 34-22 against the Rays.