ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Tampa Bay was wobbling coming off a horrid 2-7 road trip. Oakland was 6-0 on the road and leading the American League West.
The Rays completed a reversal of fortune by finishing off a three-game sweep of the A's on Sunday in an 8-1 rout at Tropicana Field.
"The results we had, we knew would change at some point," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "The guys are just better than that."
They got help on Sunday while establishing momentum heading into a three-game series beginning Monday against AL East rival New York.
Tampa Bay (8-10) exploited a dropped fly ball from Gold Glove right fielder Josh Reddick to take a 3-0 lead in the first inning that set the tone for the series finale. Oakland had just three hits off Rays' starter Roberto Hernandez and two relievers, continuing the theme for an A's lineup that scored just four runs in the series.
Hernandez allowed one run on three hits in six innings -- striking out seven and walking three. The Rays' fifth starter was dazzling with his sinker before experiencing a few mechanical problems, Maddon said, but worked out of trouble in the fourth and fifth innings to win for the first time since September of 2011. He did not pitch in the majors last season because of visa problems.
"Wow, long time," Hernandez said of finally winning in the majors again. "It felt good to win."
Ryan Roberts and Yunel Escobar each had two hits for the Rays.
A hit batter and Reddick's error were key for the Rays in the first inning. Roberts singled with one out, and Ben Zobrist chased him to third with a booming double to center before Reddick dropped a routine fly ball from Evan Longoria. Roberts scored for a 1-0 lead.
Shelley Duncan walked to load the bases before Oakland starter Tommy Milone hit Sean Rodriguez with a 1-2 fastball to force home Zobrist for a 2-0 lead. Kelly Johnson's sacrifice fly to the center field wall scored Longoria with the third run.
"We had a couple nice things happen early in the game," Maddon said.
The Rays were right back on Milone in the second, as ninth-hole hitter Escobar hit the first pitch into the left-field stands. His first homer of the year improved the lead to 4-0.
"They did a good job of keeping the pressure on," Milone said "I made some bad pitches. They did a good job of putting it in play and getting hits."
Oakland (12-7) pulled within 4-1 in the fourth on an RBI single by Reddick. Seth Smith, who led off being hit by a Hernandez pitch and advanced on a walk and a fielder's choice, scored on Reddick's shot to right through an exaggerated shift.
The Athletics loaded the bases with two outs in the fifth on a Coco Crisp single and two walks, but Hernandez retained the three-run lead when Moss lined out.
"I'd be stupid to sit here and blame it all on the offense and not give their pitching staff credit," Moss said. "They certainly did an outstanding job of keeping us off-balance all series. They used their off-speed extremely well. Then you get in a count where you think maybe it's an off-speed coming (and) they would paint a heater. They did a good job."
Tampa Bay added two runs in the seventh on a Roberts' RBI double off Milone and reliever Pat Neshek's wild pitch with the bases loaded. James Loney's RBI double and Escobar's double in the eighth increased the lead to 8-1.
Milone (3-1) allowed four earned runs on eight hits, with six strikeouts, in 6 2/3 innings.
NOTES: Oakland entered the series leading the majors with a 6-run-per-game average. ... The Rays have won three straight games for the first time this season. ... The Rays had not swept a first-place team since Sept. 26-28, 2011, against the Yankees. ... With a third-inning double, Longoria tied a career mark by reaching base in 32 consecutive games. The streak, dating to Sept. 19, 2012, is the longest currently in baseball. He's hit four home runs in his last seven games. ... Rays' shortstop prospect Hak-Ju Lee tore ligaments in his left knee during a collision at second base for Triple-A Durham on Saturday and is likely lost for the season. ... Reddick, who has a bet with WWE performer Daniel Bryan over who can maintain a beard longer this season, arrived Sunday with his fugitive facial hair and mane trimmed as he battled a 2-for-22 slump. Reddick had been growing the beard since November. He had an RBI single in his second at-bat, but dropped a ball that helped a three-run Rays' first.