Originally posted on Fox Sports Florida  |  Last updated 6/25/12
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Tampa Bay Rays Manager Joe Maddon was kicking himself just before leaving town for not coming up with a fitting travel theme for last weeks trek to D.C. and Philly. In retrospect, the Rays crafted one on the fly: Survivor: Mid-Atlantic. It seems like ages ago that the Rays began their nine-game road trip, given the amount of drama and unexpected developments that accompanied them in the nations capital and City of Not-So-Brotherly Love. But they made it through a gauntlet of challenges in surprisingly decent shape and jetted off to Kansas City for a three-game set starting Monday fresh on the heels of Sundays impressive doubleheader sweep of the Phillies, 3-2 and 7-3. Its only been a week since the team arrived in Washington amid a flurry of bad news. First, there was the Monday announcement that team offensive and defensive leader Evan Longoria had suffered a setback in his rehab assignment, clouding the timetable for his return from a partially torn hamstring And then there was the word Tuesday that starting pitcher Jeremy Hellickson was heading for the 15-day disabled list with shoulder fatigue. That was just the start of an ongoing blur of adversity that included: The heated Joel Peralta pine tar episode in last Tuesday nights opener won by the Rays 5-4, promptly accompanied by the war of words between Maddon and Washington skipper Davey Johnson. The loss of slugger Matt Joyce for most of the series with back pain sustained in Game One, leaving a critical hole in the lineup during a pair of painful setbacks to the Nationals. The ensuing news of Peraltas eight-game suspension on Thursday, punctuated by the valuable setup man getting tagged for the loss in relief while he appealed the ruling. The revelation Friday that Joyces back tightness was actually a strained oblique, forcing him to the 15-day DL, and the decision by Peralta to drop his appeal. The dj vu rain delay in Philadelphia Friday night rekindling unpleasant memories of the 2008 World Series loss, and forcing a doubleheader to be scheduled Sunday against two of baseballs best lefties: Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee. And finally, Saturdays disheartening defeat after the Rays tied the score 6-6 with a pair of runs in the top of the ninth, only to watch left-handed home run great Jim Thome blast a walk-off his 609th career homer against normally stalwart southpaw reliever Jake McGee. Against that backdrop, the Rays entered Sundays split twin-bill with plenty at stake. Saturdays loss had dropped them four games behind the Yankees in the AL East, just six games over .500 with a mark of 38-32 (and only 1.5 games ahead of the re-energized Red Sox). And it seemed as if nothing could make a difference in turning the tide: not even the 5-for-5 return to the lineup from DL of Jeff Keppinger on Saturday, or a clutch hit from newly signed former Brewer infielder Brooks Conrad, who tied the game with a single in the ninth. The prospect of facing Hamels in the opener and Lee in the nightcap was hardly reason for optimism, following the 7-6 setback the evening before. Hamels was off to a standout start at 10-3, and while Lee stood at a head-scratching 0-3, hes had a history of making life miserable for the Rays (his two victories in the 2010 ALDS for Texas come to mind, for starters). Once again, the Rays put their fortunes in the left hand of David Price, whose stellar outing in the lone win over Washington had been overshadowed by the pine tar controversy. Price allowed six hits over seven innings against the Nationals in improving to 9-4 with a 3.08 ERA. Sunday, Price went toe-to-toe with Hamels through seven innings, allowing four hits to Hamels three. The only difference: the sixth-inning homer he yielded to shortstop Jimmy Rollins that gave the Phillies a 1-0 edge heading into the eighth. But Carlos Pena changed all that, launching the first pitch he saw off reliever Antonio Bastardo into the right-field seats. That brought home Elliot Johnson and B.J. Upton, both of whom had drawn walks against Bastardo, and gave Tampa Bay its first lead of the game at 3-1. The Phillies chipped away in the bottom of the eighth with three hits and a run off Burke Badenhop, but Rodney closed it out in familiar shut-down fashion in the ninth including two straight strikeouts to end it for his 21st save in 22 chances this season. That gave Price his 10th win to go with a sparkling ERA of 2.95 quite a contrast to the recent struggles of James Shields (7-4, 3.99). The Rays ace lasted only five innings Saturday and yielded two damaging homers, a two-run shot by Rollins and three-run rip by Juan Pierre. Sundays opening victory breathed some much-needed life into the beleaguered Rays for the nightcap. To keep his rotation order set against the Royals, Maddon opted to throw a make-shift series of relievers at the Phillies, starting with Cesar Ramos, who pitched 2.2 innings of scoreless ball. Meanwhile, the Rays jumped out to a 3-0 lead with the help of an RBI double from Sean Rodriguez and Conrads follow-up double, which drove in two more. Wade Davis didnt fare so well in relief of Ramos, allowing two runs on a walk and two hits in the fourth. The Rays expanded the lead to 5-2 in the top of the sixth on Conrads second two-run double of the game against Lee, just as the former double Cy Young Award winner appeared to be settling back into his rhythm. If there were any reason to wonder why Conrad had been added to the lineup, with Drew Sutton designated for assignment, that answered the question. Davis continued to struggle, yielding a walk and double in the bottom of the sixth and allowing Philadelphia to stay close at 5-3. But on came Brandon Gomes, who has been living a revolving-door life this season with the Rays and Durham Bulls. Just recalled again on Friday, Gomes looked sharp over 2.2 innings, giving up just one hit. The Rays added two more runs in the top of the eighth with the help of five walks including one drawn by Gomes to make it 7-3. J.P. Howell added a perfect ninth to end it, with the official scorer properly awarding the victory to Gomes (2-2, 3.97 ERA). "How about the two starters we beat?" Maddon said to reporters. We didn't beat Hamels, but, nevertheless, he started the game. How about those two guys? Those are among the best pitchers in all of baseball, definitely among the best left-handers in all of baseball. And we got them both on the same day. That's pretty sweet." And now its on to K.C., with Alex Cobb slated to pitch in the series opener. Cobb (3-3, 3.82) flew there Sunday well ahead of the team to ensure hes rested for Mondays 8:10 p.m. matchup against Royals righthander Luke Hochevar (4-7, 5.65). Tuesday, the Rays will go with rookie Chris Archer, who pitched remarkably well in place of Hellickson last Tuesday in his big-league debut (allowing 3 hits and one run in six innings to the Nationals). Hell square off against lefty Bruce Chen (6-6, 4.81). And Wednesday will pit Matt Moore (4-5, 4.13) against a starter to be determined. It doesnt appear that Tampa Bay will regain the services of DH Luke Scott, who said Saturday he may need a short rehab stint in the minors before coming off the disabled list. But they may not need him against the Royals. Kansas City is struggling, sitting in fourth place in the AL Central at 31-39. That presents an ideal opportunity for the Rays to survive the road trip in good shape. For a team that looked like it was about to get voted off the island only two days ago, things suddenly dont look so bad for a change.
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