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Small ball pays dividends for Rays

Small ball pays dividends for Rays

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ST. PETERSBURG -- Jason Bartlett could practically hear the rumbling coming down the third-base line as he tried to focus -- a fastball coming at him from the mound, and Cliff Floyd charging toward his left eye.

A thing of beauty, this was not. With Floyd asked to participate in what he said was the first squeeze play of any kind in his long Major League career, there was contact, but Bartlett's first attempt at executing the fourth-inning safety squeeze went foul.

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Then, unsatisfied, Rays manager Joe Maddon flashed it down to third-base coach Tom Foley again -- a move that surprised many, but not the Rays. This time, Bartlett found grass between the white lines, and Floyd crossed the plate with Tampa Bay's final run in a 4-2 victory over Philadelphia in Game 2 of the World Series on Thursday night.

"The way Joe teaches it, anybody that's on third base should score, if it's done correctly," Bartlett said. "Cliff's not that slow. He may be big and middle-aged, but he can run pretty good."

The Rays had to do a lot with very little in their win, a rapid departure from their slugfests against the Red Sox in the American League Championship Series. Of Tampa Bay's four runs, only one scored on a hit, forcing the Rays to maximize outs as best possible.

"In a big series -- and this is the biggest one of the year -- you'd like to score early," Floyd said. "You can't score runs when you don't get opportunities. We got some opportunities early and capitalized on them. It was good to see."

In the Rays' dugout, Maddon turned to his bench coach, Dave Martinez, and glowed.

"I can't tell you how happy I was with that," Maddon said. "This is just how I think. I'm watching that; I turned to Davey Martinez and I said, 'This is what we have to emphasize next year in Spring Training, scoring runs with outs.' We've been horrid with that all year. We were not a very good team to score runs with outs."

Knowing that their best chance against Phillies right-hander Brett Myers would be to get him early, the Rays shook off the doldrums from an unproductive Game 1 loss and immediately put a two-spot on the board in the first inning.

Akinori Iwamura walked and B.J. Upton took advantage of a fielding error by Phillies right fielder Jayson Werth to wind up slapping his hands together after a slide into second base, giving the Rays two men on with none out.

"I think we knew we had to jump out early and get some momentum going," Upton said. "That's exactly what we did."

Myers would not allow another hit that inning, but Carlos Pena and Evan Longoria both smacked ground balls to shortstop Jimmy Rollins, giving the Rays a 2-0 lead after one inning.

"That's what we're about -- the little things, small ball," Upton said. "We've been doing it all year. There's no reason to stop now."


"We don't have the 45-homer, 150-RBIs guy that we can count on. We've got baseball players -- good, solid baseball players. And that's important. We can take the extra base at any given time."
-- Cliff Floyd

Three hits and a questioned umpiring call led to the Rays' third run in the second inning. After Dioner Navarro had reached on a one-out single, Myers worked the count full against Rocco Baldelli before snapping off an 86-mph slider, low and away.

Baldelli checked his swing, and home-plate umpire Kerwin Danley shot his arm up as though to record the strikeout before pointing to first-base umpire Fieldin Culbreth, who ruled that Baldelli had not swung and awarded first base on a walk.

Bartlett singled to load the bases and Upton came through with a run-scoring single to right field, though the inning ended when Baldelli was tagged out at home plate.

"I don't feel as though we're showing the country anything different than we've done all year," Baldelli said. "This is how we've played since Day 1. We play low-scoring games a lot and our pitching staff keeps us in pretty much every game."

Holding a 3-0 lead in the fourth inning, Maddon saw the opportunity to break out a play that the Rays have kept in their back pockets since their late February workouts at the since-abandoned Progress Energy Park down by the St. Petersburg marina.

"You're not always going to hit home runs," Maddon said of his club, which hit 180 in the regular season and 23 more in the playoffs -- but none on Thursday. "When you're facing better pitching, when you get an opportunity to score a run, you better take advantage of it. And if there's less than two outs, it doesn't have to be a hit."

The situation presented itself after Baldelli slid hard into second base to break up a potential double play, leaving Floyd at third base and Navarro at first base with one out.

With Floyd leaving a little bit early for the tastes of the safety squeeze, Bartlett -- who broke his right index finger on an Aug. 3 bunt attempt and still keeps that thought in the back of his mind -- missed the first 90-mph fastball from Myers.

"I don't even think that we'd gotten one down all year, to be honest with you," Longoria said. "We tried it a couple of times, and Bartlett, of all people. He told me in the dugout that he was a little bit nervous to bunt, because he had gotten hit."

"It's always in the back of my head, but it's something I've got to do," Bartlett said.

Apprehension aside, Bartlett placed the second one well enough to allow the hustling Floyd -- "You can kind of hear him coming down that line," Bartlett said -- to touch the plate with what Bartlett called an "important" insurance run.

"We have some athletes here," Floyd said. "We don't have the 45-homer, 150-RBIs guy that we can count on. We've got baseball players -- good, solid baseball players. And that's important. We can take the extra base at any given time.

"We've got a young, exciting, fast team and we always make the pitcher think about what the heck he's going to do."

The execution also made Maddon flash ahead once more -- as he's said already this week -- to next spring, when the Rays will move into a new training facility down in Port Charlotte, Fla. It's difficult to imagine, but even as his club competes in the World Series, the self-described "dreamer" is already thinking ahead to a speech he can give come February.

"I really want us to understand, it's being validated when you play this time of year under these circumstances, to be able to have that within your arsenal to score runs with outs," Maddon said. "See how important it is; go back to Game 2 vs. the Phillies, boom.

"All of a sudden, it's easier to sell it or push it. We want to be able to be that team. Ground ball, ground ball, bunt, three points right there. That's beautiful."

Bryan Hoch 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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