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Rays win fifth straight game

The SportsXchange

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Tampa Bay Rays center fielder Sam Fuld said Sunday's 4-2 sweep-clinching win over the San Diego Padres fit more of their "blueprint."

There was sparkling defense, including Fuld's spectacular leaping catch at the wall in the first inning, as well as a solid start by Roberto Hernandez in front of a Mothers Day crowd of 17,396 at Tropicana Field.

A solid performance by the bullpen also helped Tampa Bay (19-18) win its fifth straight game, its longest winning streak of the year, and get over .500 for the first time since April 6.

"Everything is clicking together," left-handed reliever Jake McGee said. "We're playing good defense, we're hitting, and now we're pitching."

The Padres (16-21) entered the series having won four straight, but were swept in a three-game set in which they held a lead in each game. Behind left-hander Eric Stults, San Diego had a one-run lead until the Rays scored two in the sixth inning.

"First two games, we felt like we should have come out with victories in both," Padres center fielder Chris Denorfia said. "To have them slip away like that is always frustrating. Because to lose two games like the first two is always frustrating."

Fuld, known for his highlight-reel catches the last few years, set the tone with one of his best on Sunday. With one out in the first, Fuld raced back and leaped at the right-center wall to rob right fielder Will Venable of extra bases. Fuld said he knew it'd be a close play off the bat, and lost the ball for a bit, before regaining sight of it to catch it at the top of the wall.

"That was unbelievable," Rays third baseman Evan Longoria said.

"That was sick," Sean Rodriguez said.

Hernandez (2-4) had his second straight solid outing, allowing two runs and five hits over six innings. In the fourth, Hernandez gave up a walk and two singles, with Padres first baseman Yonder Alonso knocking in a run, before he got out of the inning by starting a 1-4-3 double play.

With one out in the fifth, Padres second baseman Alexi Amarista hit a solo homer to right center, putting San Diego up 2-1. Hernandez got in a jam again, allowing a single and walk, but shortstop Yunel Escobar -- playing behind second base on a shift -- made a great diving stop to his left before throwing out Chase Headley to end the inning.

"Escobar's playing with a lot of confidence," Rays manager Joe Maddon said.

But it took a two-run rally in the sixth for the Rays to give Hernandez the win.

Longoria led off with a double. He moved to third on a fly out to right field by first baseman James Loney and then scored on a single to center by Rodriguez to tie it.

"I felt like I made a pitch in a location that I wanted to," Stults said. "He didn't put the best swing on it, but he got enough of it to put it in there in no-man's land."

Loney added an insurance run with a solo homer in the eighth, his second in as many games. And while the first two games of the series included late-inning comebacks, the Tampa Bay bullpen closed this one out, with Jake McGee, Joel Peralta and Fernando Rodney combining for the final nine outs. After some early-season struggles, the Rays bullpen has not allowed a run over the last 13 2/3 innings.

"As they really get their confidence flowing through a couple successful outings, you're going to see them really take off," Maddon said.

The game featured impressive defense on both sides, including Rays right fielder Matt Joyce making an over-the-shoulder catch on the warning track with one out in the ninth to rob Denorfia of extra bases. Joyce admittedly took a bad route on the ball before making it "look easier than it actually is."

"That, for me, is my favorite play," Joyce said. "It's fun, it kind of reminds you of a football player catching a touchdown in the end zone."

NOTES: Rays center fielder Desmond Jennings (sore groin) did not start for the third straight game but hopes after Monday's off day to return to the lineup on Tuesday against the Red Sox. ... Longoria, who served as designated hitter, has reached base safely at least twice in each of his last seven games....The Padres have been swept four times this season, compared to five sweeps all of last season... First baseman Yonder Alonso has reached base in 16 of his last 19 games.... Many players from each team wore pink arm sleeves or wrist bands, and swung pink bats, as part of MLB's Mothers' Day breast cancer awareness initiative.
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