MIAMI -- An imprint in the pattern of baseball stitches was visible on Evan Longoria's upper left arm, a souvenir from an inside pitch he failed to avoid in the ninth inning.
The Tampa Bay Rays' latest win eased the pain.Longoria hit a tiebreaking single in eighth to pad his major league-leading RBI total Saturday, and the Rays beat the hapless Florida Marlins 10-3.Tampa Bay improved to 23-22 with its third consecutive win. The reigning AL champions are above .500 for the first time since April 13."That's how we played all last year," Longoria said. "The belief is back. In tight games we believe firmly we can win those games now. As long as we keep believing that, we're going to be pretty good."Longoria came out of the game in the bottom of the ninth to ice his arm but said he was fine."It hit me right in the meat," he said. "That's a good spot."While Longoria collected his 48th RBI, Jason Bartlett had three RBIs and two hits to hike his average to .376, and reserve catcher Michel Hernandez drove in two runs for the Rays. Jeff Niemann allowed one run in six innings."Everybody is going to leave tonight feeling like they had a part in it, which is really a wonderful thing," manager Joe Maddon said. "I like our fight."After winning 15-2 Friday, the Rays benefited from another dismal performance by the slumping Marlins. Florida walked nine, hit a batter, balked home a run, committed three errors and allowed Tampa Bay to break a 3-all tie in the eighth with an unearned run.Akinori Iwamura walked against Leo Nunez (2-2) to start the inning and advanced on a sacrifice. First baseman Jorge Cantu mishandled a grounder to put runners at the corners, and Longoria followed with a single.The Rays added six runs in the ninth, including four off Matt Lindstrom, who balked in a run."That's a very tough ballclub over there, and they took it to us pretty good these past two nights," Lindstrom said. "We just have to find a way to respond."Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez was lucky to miss his team's latest loss. He was out of town to attend his daughter's high school graduation, and Florida played no better for bench coach Carlos Tosca.Since an 11-1 start, the Marlins have gone 8-24."It has certainly been a struggle," infielder Wes Helms said. "But it's something you have to battle through. It's not something you can just wish away. You just have to keep working hard every night."Even in better times Florida has struggled against the Rays, losing seven in a row in the Citrus Series. During that stretch the Marlins have been outscored by the Rays 68-19.Tampa Bay won despite stranding 15 runners. The Rays, who entered leading the majors in runs, struggled to scratch out two against Sean West, who went five innings in his major league debut."It was like a dream being out there and facing guys like Longoria who you watched on TV last fall," West said.The Rays had better luck against the Marlins' beleaguered bullpen, scoring off four relievers. Grant Balfour (2-0) struck out the only batter he faced for the win.Carl Crawford scored twice and stole a base to improve to 26 for 26 this year. The Rays center fielder also robbed the Marlins twice on flyballs in the fourth, first retreating to make a leaping catch and then charging to make a sliding grab.Tampa Bay closed to within 3 1/2 games of AL East leader Toronto."Whenever we get a chance to get outside the AL East, we've got to try to win those games," Longoria said.
LHP David Price, who helped Tampa Bay reach the World Series last year, is expected to be promoted from Triple-A Durham to start Monday at Cleveland. "We haven't officially announced anything yet," Maddon said with a smile. "We don't want to tip the Indians off." Price would replace Scott Kazmir, who went on the disabled list Friday with a quadriceps strain. ... With the Rays facing left-hander West, Maddon held AL home run leader Carlos Pena and Akinori Iwamura out of the starting lineup. ... Marlins rookie LF Chris Coghlan is 2 for 27 on their homestand, dropping his average to .143. ... With Niemann at 6-foot-9 and West at 6-8, the pitching matchup was the third-tallest in major league history.