The primary lesson to be taken from the Tampa Bay Rays' victory against the Baltimore Orioles on Monday, an 8-4 win that kept their losing streak from reaching a dozen, was that strength of schedule matters.
Free at last from the 17-game gauntlet against the Tigers, Red Sox and Yankees that officially torpedoed their season, the Rays finally got their hands on an inferior opponent and suddenly everything fell back into place.
Well, perhaps not suddenly. Watching David Price go from a 1-0 lead with the bases empty and two outs in the bottom of the first to a 4-1 deficit before the inning was finished raised the possibility that the Rays might truly be spinning out of control.
The Orioles ultimately found a way to steady them, though. Baltimore's pitching provided exactly the fodder a disintegrating offensive attack needed to reassemble its top-to-bottom might, with a hefty assist from some shoddy work in the field.
Everyone in the lineup except Evan Longoria made one contribution or another to the runs the Rays put on the board, with the bottom two batters in the order - B.J. Upton and Reid Brignac - each including a home run in multi-hit nights.
And Price came back strong after that first-inning misstep, which came immediately in the wake of a hard grounder off his right big toe, to plow through the Orioles' lineup and complete seven innings. Price retired 19 of the final 23 batters he faced, including 13 in a row during one stretch.
Put it all together and the Rays avoided dropping to .500 for the first time since June 11, their record inching back up to 73-71 as they finally checked a staggering fall from relevance.
"They were adding up," Brignac said of all those losses. "It was a bad stretch that we went through, and you don't want to continue going down that path. You want to get that win and get everybody's confidence back up, and I think that's what tonight was for everyone."
For Brignac and Price, in particular.
While the lefty has more big-league experience and success from which to draw when times get tough, a little positive reinforcement is always welcome, and he got it in bouncing back from that unsteady first inning.
Price credited his teammates' immediate response of three runs in the second inning off David Hernandez - two of them coming on Brignac's first major-league home run - with giving him a reprieve as the game evened back up at 4-4.
"That kind of gives me kind of a redo," Price said. "It was very appreciated by me, obviously."
Brignac finished a triple shy of the cycle, his four hits and three extra-base hits tying Rays rookie records. It looked for a split-second as if his second double, a screamer down the right-field line in the seventh, might produce the first cycle in Tampa Bay history, but he hit it too hard to even try for third.
Regardless, Brignac will take a 4-for-4 night at the plate any time, especially capped by a stellar defensive play that saw him go deep in the hole to rob Melvin Mora of a hit in the sixth.
"He had a real nice day, and we needed that," Manager Joe Maddon said. "That was big to get it from a place you did not expect."
After the Rays spent the better part of two weeks not getting anything from anywhere, they were in no position to quibble. This matchup between an also-ran and a never-ran had its unsightly moments, to be sure, with each team letting a run in on an error.
But in the end, it broke the Rays' way.
"The whole world revolves around confidence, and our confidence definitely took a hit by this last two weeks," Maddon said. "So we have to regenerate our confidence, and as we do that we're going to start winning more games."