DETROIT - Joe Maddon went against the baseball grain again, but for his own good reasons.
It isn't often a manager will pull a right-handed pitcher and bring in another right-hander to face a left-handed hitter in a game-turning moment, but that's what the Tampa Bay manager did Wednesday night in the Rays' 3-0 victory over the Detroit Tigers in a game that was scoreless through eight innings.
Matt Joyce's sacrifice fly to center with nobody out in the ninth inning scored Sam Fuld from third base to break the scoreless tie. Fuld was in the starting lineup only because Kelly Johnson's back tightened up on him during batting practice.
Fuld took Joyce's place atop the batting order while Joyce slid down to hit third in Johnson's spot.
Fuld beat out a bunt single to first to open the ninth off Doug Fister (5-3) and raced to third on Ben Zobrist's ground single to right. Joyce's sacrifice fly broke a scoreless tie and also let Zobrist take second on the throw.
Evan Longoria's RBI single through short after a wild pitch got Zobrist to third, and Desmond Jennings hit an RBI triple off reliever Drew Smyly.
Alex Cobb matched Fister's eight scoreless innings but was one batter shy of qualifying for the win due to Maddon's tradition-defying move.
One of the game's key moments came in the bottom of the eighth and Maddon was a little coy about his reasoning.
He had Cobb walk Miguel Cabrera intentionally with a man on second, two out and first base open. But then he brought in right-hander Joel Peralta to pitch to the left-handed hitting Prince Fielder rather than bring in southpaw Jake McGee, who was also warming up for the power-hitting Detroit first baseman.
The key was Fielder has hit left-handers far better than right-handers this season -- .373 to .241 entering the game. Peralta (1-2) struck Fielder out to end the inning.
"It all depends on the pitcher," Maddon said. "It's not a generic moment. I was aware of Fielder's average against left-handers, but that's not his eight-year track record. It could be just an anomaly.
"It all depends on our pitcher and what he looks like at that moment."
Then Maddon grinned.
"Fielder was 1-for-3 against Peralta."
Maddon also ordered Cabrera walked intentionally twice, despite the fact Fielder hurt him in that situation the previous game and was 8-for-9 with a walk and 10 RBI after the most recent 10 times Cabrera had walked in front of Fielder.
Fielder struck out both times Cabrera was walked intentionally.
Fernando Rodney may be having his problems finishing off games this season in comparison to the Mr. Automatic he was last season, but he still earned his 12th save for holding Detroit off in the ninth. Detroit got a leadoff walk and a one-out single but nothing more.
Fister and Cobb staged a classic pitcher's duel through the first 7 2/3 innings with each team blowing up its one chance to score the game's first run in the third inning.
In Tampa Bay's half, the Rays got a one-out double by Jose Lobaton and a single to left by Yunel Escobar that left runners at first and third.
Drawn-in Prince Fielder made a diving stop of Fuld's sharp grounder to his right and threw home without getting up. Lobaton had 15 feet to go when Alex Avila got the ball and retreated to third with the Detroit catcher after him.
Avila tagged Lobaton shy of the bag for one out and alertly put the glove on Escobar sliding into third for an inning-ending two-outs-for-one play.
"Neither one really had a golden moment right there," Maddon said of his two runners.
Avila walked to begin the Tigers' half of the third and Omar Infante singled to left. Avisail Garcia forced Infante to give Detroit its shot at a first-and-third, one-out situation.
But Garcia was thrown out trying to steal second when he should have stayed put. Either Garcia misinterpreted a sign as a steal or wrongly took off on his own.
"If he missed a sign, then I missed it too," one Detroit player said.
NOTES: Johnson didn't play Wednesday night due to back tightness but Maddon said indications were he'd be able to go Thursday afternoon. ... Tampa Bay's Evan Longoria "has the ability to really slow the game down," Detroit manager Jim Leyland said Wednesday. "He's a terrific third baseman - but my third baseman (Miguel Cabrera) is going to start the All-Star game." ... The Rays signed former Nationals catcher Jesus Flores to a minor league contract, assigning him to Triple-A Durham. He will give the organization protection following a hand injury to Chris Gimenez. Flores played in 83 games for Washington last season, hitting .213 with six home runs and 26 RBI. ... Austin Jackson continues to feel soreness in his bad left hamstring. He won't be sent on a rehab assignment until the soreness disappears. ... Disabled Rays lefty David Price is scheduled to throw Friday, his first bullpen session since being sidelined with a left triceps strain. Pitching coach Jim Hickey said Price will have three bullpen sessions before making some rehab starts, which means he won't be back until late June at the earliest.