video thumbnail

TB@COL: Johnson's homer gives the Rays breathing room

DENVER -- The Rays faced a tough task on Friday, having to come from behind before toppling the first-place Rockies in extra innings. The two teams had dominated the other at their respective parks, but the Rays took the game to the wire in the series opener.

Colorado had been great in extras at home, but the Rays turned the tables in the 10th, breaking a four-inning stalemate with Evan Longoria's go-ahead single and a two-run shot from Kelly Johnson, snatching a 7-4 victory to open the series.

"Those are two things we have not been doing very well, winning on the road and winning late," manager Joe Maddon said. "Those are two things we have to get better at. That's part of our DNA. We win late and we win on the road. The vibe just hasn't been there yet. We're just not in sync yet, but we will be. But that's the kind of game I expect our team to win -- late, tight, on the road."

Ben Zobrist sparked the 10th-inning rally with a double to left through a hole at third left empty by a shifted Rockies defense, and Longoria followed with his game-winning single to center.

"It was a good win to hopefully start a new trend," Johnson said. "Evan got a huge hit. That's why he's there. He's our guy. A good guy to have up at that time."

Johnson proved to be a good man to have in the lineup as well, coming to the plate after Matt Joyce flied out and with Longoria on first before drilling a ball over the right-center-field fence for a pair of insurance runs. When he came into the dugout, he kissed the lineup card.

"Right before I was going on deck, I said to [bench coach Dave Martinez], 'Hey, do I need to bunt here if Joyce walks?'" Johnson said. "He goes, 'Yeah, for a hit.' He popped out, and he goes, 'Now hit a homer.' I gave him a huge hug, and I was still fired up."

He then planted a kiss on the prophetic lineup card.

Maddon had scribbled a mantra across the card before the game to help loosen up his club.

"'Swing for homers, the singles will come,'" Johnson read. "One time I was struggling bad and got that piece of advice from someone. I was joking around about it early in the season when we were scuffling. It's easy to press sometimes. It's kind of a joke."

The levity helped the Rays battle back from an early deficit in an unpredictable park after the Rockies jumped out to a lead in the first inning. Dexter Fowler extended his hitting streak to 11 with a leadoff single to left. Michael Cuddyer came to the plate with two outs and drove a 1-0 pitch from Matt Moore over the center-field fence to give Colorado a 2-0 advantage.

Colorado kept the pressure on Moore in the second after Josh Rutledge hit a leadoff shot into the Rockies' right-field bullpen.

"Overall command of all my pitches [was the issue]," Moore said. "I figured something out there with the breaking ball, but it didn't turn into a weapon for me until I was ahead in the count."

Rockies starter Jeff Francis stifled the Rays in the early innings, keeping the first 10 batters from hitting the ball out of the infield. Jose Lobaton led off the third with a single to the third baseman, and with two outs, Ryan Roberts doubled to center to put the Rays on the scoreboard. Zobrist made it back-to-back run-scoring doubles on a liner laced down the left-field line.

The game took a big turn in the bottom of the fourth when Moore walked the first two batters he faced, including the pitcher on four pitches. Fowler, who entered the game hitting .303 with a team-high eight home runs, put down a bunt to the pitcher to advance the runners.

"That was my call," Fowler said. "[Manager Walt Weiss] didn't have anything to do with that. You have two runners in scoring position, you're facing one of the best pitchers in the game. We get those two runs in and it's a different ballgame. Sometimes you have to take one for the team."

Moore followed by striking out Jordan Pacheco, who was hitting .339 entering the game, and All-Star Carlos Gonzalez to escape the inning unscathed, which is more than Fowler could say. Fowler left the game after knocking into Sean Rodriguez at first when hustling to beat out his bunt.

"I put myself in a situation where I really had to grind and battle to get out of there when I never should have -- I can't walk the pitcher when he's trying to give me an out," Moore said. "We had some ideas [for] CarGo. I was fortunate enough to be able to make a couple pitches up in the zone that he chased."

The Rays seized on the Rockies' missed opportunity, adding a pair of runs in the fifth frame when Desmond Jennings launched a two-run homer into the seats in center as Eric Young Jr. climbed the wall in a fruitless pursuit. Colorado tied it up in the bottom of the inning as Moore issued another leadoff walk, this one to Cuddyer. Rookie Nolan Arenado then drove an RBI double to center.

The Rays 'pen shut down the Rockies the rest of the way, navigating a crucial series in the bottom of the eighth when Troy Tulowitzki entered as a pinch-hitter with runners on first and third and one out. Maddon walked Tulowitzki intentionally, and Jake McGee then struck out Young. Maddon then brought out Brandon Gomes for the bases-loaded strikeout of Pacheco.

"After Gomes struck out the guy with the bases loaded, it was a huge lift for our team," McGee said. "It felt like we had a chance to win the game, even though we were on the road. That was big."

MLB.com Comments