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Rays' risky move pays dividends

Rays' risky move pays dividends

ARLINGTON -- Rays manager Joe Maddon didn't see it as unconventional or unorthodox.

He called it "prudent." The results speak for themselves, even if it's the type of move reserved for a guy like Barry Bonds or Babe Ruth.

Maddon made the unusual call of intentionally walking Josh Hamilton with two out and the bases loaded in the ninth inning Sunday night. The Rays had a four-run lead at the time, and the move paid off when reliever Dan Wheeler struck out Marlon Byrd to end the game and preserve a 7-4 victory over the Rangers.

"I just thought it was prudent," Maddon said. "I could very easily see him hitting a grand slam. He's having -- I don't want to say spectacular -- but he's having a pretty good year. I didn't like Wheeler against him, either."

The Rays led 7-2 into the ninth, but the Rangers scored one and had the bases loaded with two outs when Hamilton came to the plate against reliever Grant Balfour. Byrd was on deck batting behind Hamilton because Milton Bradley had been scratched before the game due to back tightness.

Maddon said that made a huge difference in the decision to walk Hamilton. If Bradley is in that spot, Maddon made it clear the decision would have been different.

"Absolutely," Maddon said.

But Hamilton leads the Major Leagues in RBIs, and he had a grand slam against the Rays at Tropicana Field earlier this year. Maddon talked it over with pitching coach Jim Hickey, and decided to walk Hamilton on four pitches.

"He's got a pretty good shot at tying it up," Maddon said. "With Byrd and a single, we still have the lead. Extra bases maybe ties it up, and a home run wins the game. But I could easily imagine Hamilton tying it up right there. So I chose to walk him even though Byrd was 2-for-3 with an extra-base hit off Wheeler. I'd rather see him up there.

"Let's face it, this is Hamilton's year and I didn't want him to ruin ours."

Wheeler got ahead 1-and-2 on Byrd, and then hung a curveball. Byrd fouled it off. Wheeler then struck him out on a much sharper curve.

"That was the pitch to hit, a hanging breaking ball," Byrd said. "He executed the next pitch. I've got to come through in that situation."

As for the intentional walk, Byrd said: "It was the right move in the right spot. When a guy is the American League Manager of the Year like he's going to be, things go your way."

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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