ST. PETERSBURG — With some small ball at the plate and a mammoth effort by Erik Bedard on the mound, the Rays ended a 10-game losing streak Friday night with a 4-0 victory against the Mariners.
Seattle had won five consecutive games before Bedard tossed six shutout innings, striking out eight with an array of off-speed pitches before yielding to Jake McGee, who promptly struck out the side with a barrage of 98-mph fastballs.
Rays manager Joe Maddon, who lauded McGee as Tampa Bay’s No. 1 All-Star this season, turned to Joel Peralta and Grant Balfour to finish up as the Rays posted their seventh shutout of the year. limiting the Mariners to only five hits.
The Rays (24-38) are still saddled with the worst record in the majors, but a Tropicana Field crowd of 14,577 saw Tampa Bay finally return to its winning ways behind a traditional formula -- standout defense, stout pitching and timely hitting.
“The music’s back on in the clubhouse after the game,’’ said Maddon. “It’s good to hear the music again.’’
Bedard was in command from the start against his former teammates, but he had to escape a critical third-inning jam. An infield hit by Stefen Romero and Cole Gillespie’s double put runners on second and third with none out before Bedard defused the threat by striking out Brad Miller, James Jones and Michael Saunders.
“You’ve got to bear down and make some pitches in that situation to try and limit the damage,’’ said Bedard, who became the first Tampa Bay starter to post a win since May 16, a span of 19 games. “I threw my curve for strikes when I was ahead on the count and behind on the count, so they couldn’t sit on pitches.’’
Sparked by rookie outfielder Kevin Kiermaier, the Rays broke a scoreless tie in the fourth against Chris Young. Kiermaier grounded a one-out hit to right field and surprised Seattle by hustling his way into second base. He moved to third on a wild pitch and scored on a sacrifice fly by Jose Molina, who hadn’t driven in a run since last September.
That proved to be a good omen for the Rays, who added a pair of fifth-inning runs to give Bedard a cushion.
Evan Longoria opened with a single and advanced to third when James Loney bounced a single over the head of first baseman Justin Smoak. Longoria scored on a suicide squeeze by Desmond Jennings, who ended up safe at first when Young couldn’t get the ball out of his glove.
Yunel Escobar’s two-out RBI single put Tampa Bay ahead 3-0 and that was more than enough against the Mariners (31-29), who struck out 14 times.
The Rays, who left 15 men on base, added a seventh-inning run on back-to-back singles by Escobar and Kiermaier, Molina’s sacrifice bunt and a wild pitch by Tom Wilhelmsen.
Loney turned in the defensive gem of the evening in the sixth when the slick-fielding first baseman ranged deep into foul territory to grab John Buck’s pop with one out and Robinson Cano on first base.
Longoria also turned in a nice play, chasing down Dustin Ackley’s eighth-inning foul pop, which was twisting away from third base.
Kiermaier has been one of Tampa Bay’s few bright spots during a prolonged tailspin. He added an infield hit and a walk Friday, breathing some life into a reeling franchise that had established itself as a perennial AL power since 2008.
“The kid plays the game the proper way,’’ Maddon said. “If I’m any other player on this team and watch the way he plays and I’m not impacted by that, then my eyes are closed.’’