ST. PETERSBURG — It was Matt Joyce who broke the scoring drought, punched the monster in the gut with a single that scored the first runs the Rays scored since Saturday night.
It was Kevin Kiermaier, the rookie right fielder touted by manager Joe Maddon as the best fielding outfielder in all of baseball, who made a running, leaping, flying catch with the bases loaded to save three runs and preserve a one-run lead.
And it was the bullpen, punctuated with a seven-out save by Grant Balfour, that made it all work as the Rays snapped a four-game losing streak with a 6-3 victory Wednesday night against the Cardinals at Tropicana Field.
It was the second win for the Rays in their past 17 games.
“I don’t think anybody’s going to really go crazy with just one win,” Joyce said. “Everybody in here knows we have a long way to go. I think it’s only going to help us get back to playing the game we know how to play and hopefully we carry it into Houston.”
Shut out in a team record three straight games heading into Wednesday, the Rays scored four runs in the fourth inning — two on the single by Joyce and two on Desmond Jennings’ bases-loaded single.
That snapped a 31-inning scoreless streak, also a team record.
The Rays, who entered the inning trailing 3-0, grabbed their first lead since the fourth inning Saturday against Seattle.
“Obviously that’s a great feeling to come through and really kick start the party,” Joyce said. “Everybody knows it’s a hard game. Anyone who’s played the game knows it’s a hard game and can really be frustrating at times.”
Joyce, 1-for-15 before his fourth inning at-bat, stayed up late after Tuesday’s loss and searched the Internet for some inspirational thoughts.
“I couldn’t sleep,” he said.
He found a few to his liking, including this one from Dr. Seuss that hit home with the man who goes by @sweetswinging20 on Twitter:
“I have heard there are troubles of more than one kind. Some come from ahead and some come from behind. But I’ve bought a big bat. I’m all ready you see. Now my troubles are going to have troubles with me!”
Joyce’s two-out single to center field scored James Loney with the Rays’ first run since the eighth inning of Saturday’s loss. Ben Zobrist continued home on an error by center fielder Peter Bourjos.
The Cardinals loaded the bases with two outs in the fifth against Brad Boxberger, who replaced starter Erik Bedard that inning.
Bourjos crushed a line drive into the right-center field gap. Kiermaier left his feet and caught the ball just as his body was falling forward.
“He made good contact and I got a good jump on it toward the right-center gap,” Kiermaier said. “Those lights up there are tricky, and I lost it for a split second. I knew I was going to have to lay out for it, and I saw it just in time to know where it was going to be. I made a dive and I was just happy to see the ball get in the glove. It was a crazy play.”
Maddon called on Balfour to get the final out of the seventh, which he did. Maddon then allowed Balfour to pitch the rest of the way. With Jake McGee not available because of his recent workload, and with Balfour using only 16 pitches to get the first four outs, Maddon sent the former closer back out for the ninth. Joel Peralta was throwing in case somebody reached base.
No one did.
“We needed that. The guys needed that,” Maddon said. “You could just see them relax immediately (after Joyce’s hit). You could see the better at-bats showing up. You could see the more believability. They just needed that.”