Devil Rays 6, Marlins 1

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MIAMI (AP)—Midway through the season, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and Florida Marlins are headed in opposite directions.

And it’s not the way most would have predicted.

Victor Zambrano gave up four hits in seven shutout innings and drove in his first career run, leading the Devil Rays to a 6-1 victory over the slumping Marlins on Saturday night.

The Devil Rays improved to 30-10 since May 20 and moved two games over .500 (40-38) for the first time since starting the 2002 season 3-1.

“After the last month and a half that we’ve had, we feel like we’re in a position to close up the first half on a strong note and come out in the second half and contend for a wild card,” first baseman Tino Martinez said.

Previously, the latest in a season Tampa Bay had been two games over .500 was at 22-20 on May 21, 1999.

The Devil Rays are 5-0-1 in their last six series, including winning both three-game sets in the Citrus Series against Florida. They also improved to 15-2 in interleague play, including 8-0 on the road.

The defending World Series champions, meanwhile, have lost four straight and 11 of 15.

Marlins general manager Larry Beinfest addressed the team after the game with team owner Jeffrey Loria standing nearby.

“I don’t do it often, but I wanted to share a few thoughts with the team,” Beinfest said. “It’s not a message of panic because that’s not the way the organization feels. … There are stretches in a season like this. Good teams find their way out of it, and we will. We’re going to get out of this.”

Zambrano (9-4) won his sixth consecutive decision and hasn’t lost since May 15. He struck out four and walked four.

“He has been outstanding,” catcher Toby Hall said. “Right now, he’s on fire. He has nasty stuff going for him. He used to be effectively wild, but now he’s throwing everything for strikes and he’s every bit as effective.

“Teams are swinging the bat against him, but when he’s on the way he has been lately, he’s unhittable.”

Florida’s Juan Pierre hit an RBI triple in the ninth off Jorge Sosa and finished with three hits, including a double. Danys Baez completed the five-hitter.

Brad Penny (7-7) lost for the fifth time in six starts. He allowed five runs on seven hits and three walks in six innings.

Although the Marlins haven’t scored many runs in Penny’s recent starts, the right-hander wasn’t effective in his last two outings. He gave up 10 earned runs and had just three strikeouts against Atlanta and Tampa Bay.

“Everybody’s pressing,” Pierre said. “You can see it when we get out on the field. The only thing that eases that is winning.”

The Devil Rays did most of the damage against Penny in a three-run third inning.

Geoff Blum, Hall and Zambrano started the inning with consecutive doubles to right, making it 2-0. Carl Crawford followed with an RBI single.

Zambrano’s hit was the first of his career, ending an 0-for-6 drought. He had the baseball in his locker after the game.

Aubrey Huff walked to open the sixth and scored on Jose Cruz Jr.’s double, making it 4-0. Cruz later scored on Blum’s sacrifice fly.

Tampa Bay made it 6-0 in the seventh when Huff scored on Julio Lugo’s single to left. Cruz also tried to score on the hit but was thrown out by Jeff Conine.

The Marlins had little chance to overcome the big lead. After all, they have scored just 54 runs in their last 15 games (3.6 per game).

“Better days are ahead,” Marlins manager Jack McKeon said. “We have tojust keep playing hard, doing the best we can and things will turn.”

Notes

The Marlins are 26-33 since starting the season 15-7. … Crawford got his major league-leading 38th stolen base. … Tampa Bay utilityman Damian Rolls flied out as a pinch-hitter and is 0-for-2 since coming off the disabledlist.

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