Joe Maddon had an answer for anyone who wanted to question his decision to intentionally walk Miguel Cabrera to load the bases in the seventh inning of a tight game for the second consecutive night Wednesday.
"You saw what he did in his previous at-bat," the Tampa Bay Rays' manager said, referring to Cabrera's 436-foot solo home run in the sixth inning. "I don't hit a 3-wood that far."
Maddon played the percentages and came up smiling again. Grant Balfour got Brennan Boesch to fly out to shallow left field to end the inning, and the Rays defeated the Detroit Tigers 7-4 before 16,209 at Tropicana Field.
The Rays reached the 100-game mark of the season with as much momentum as they've had all year. They won their fifth game in a row and moved to a season-high 24 games over .500 (62-38). They also improved to 9-1 at home in July.
If ace David Price (13-5, 2.90 ERA) can stop Rick Porcello (4-8, 5.55) this afternoon, the Rays will have a four-game sweep of the Tigers entering their weekend showdown with the Yankees.
The game's tipping moment came in the seventh, just as it did Tuesday night when Maddon had Randy Choate intentionally walk Cabrera to load the bases and brought on Balfour to face Boesch.
Balfour struck out Boesch, and the Rays held on for a 3-2 victory.
This time, Balfour started the inning and got himself in trouble by giving up a one-out double to Will Rhymes and walking Johnny Damon.
After Balfour struck out Jeff Larish to bring up MVP candidate Cabrera, Maddon, whose team led 5-4, ordered the intentional walk.
The strategy worked again, even though Boesch entered Wednesday hitting .305, including .265 against right-handed pitchers.
"It's an ugly moment," Maddon said of having two runners on with Cabrera coming up. "That's something we had talked about, and we were going to do it again. Same pitcher, same hitter, which is always a bit less comfortable because Boesch had seen Grant the day before."
Balfour said he wouldn't have minded pitching to Cabrera.
"I'm going to be honest: I want to face the guy," he said. "I've had some success against him and I want to face him. But that's just me. I know the logical thing is to put him on if there is a base there and face the other guy."
After Balfour preserved the Rays' 5-4 lead, Joaquin Benoit had a 1-2-3 eighth, and Evan Longoria hit a two-run homer in the eighth for the extra cushion. Rafael Soriano needed only nine pitches in the ninth to earn his career-high 28th save.
The Rays won on a night when the normally reliable Jeff Niemann (9-3) looked fatigued but battled to hold the bullpen off until the seventh inning. He gave up four runs on eight hits, including a solo home run to Damon in the third and the bomb by Cabrera.
"It was just being a little all over the place tonight," Niemann said. "Tried to kind of hone it in as the game went on and got a little bit better, but it was just one of those days when not a whole lot of things were working out like you wanted them to."
The Rays played without center fielder B.J. Upton, who suffered a sprained left ankle Tuesday, and lost Ben Zobrist after the third with lower back stiffness. Neither player is expected to miss much time.
Longoria entered the game hitless in his previous 18 at-bats and went 3-for-4 with two runs scored and two RBIs.
"I was happy to see it turn around for me offensively tonight," Longoria said. "But actually, it doesn't really matter; we're playing well as a team. We keep winning games; it doesn't matter if I get three hits or no hits."