Tampa Bay reached the World Series in 2008, went a respectable 84-78 in 2009 and came to town this week with the best record in baseball, which makes it all the more baffling as to why the mere sight of Angel Stadium turns the Rays into putty.
"I stink there," Tampa Bay Manager Joe Maddon, the former Angels bench coach, said on the eve of a three-game series in Anaheim. "I do. I'm horrible."
Monday night did little to soothe those feelings.
The Rays rallied from a four-run deficit, scoring once in the eighth inning off Fernando Rodney and three times in the ninth off wobbly Angels closer Brian Fuentes to tie the score and send the game into extra innings.
But Juan Rivera hit a sacrifice fly in the 11th to lift the Angels to a 5-4 walk-off victory, only their third win in the last 11 games and their third walk-off win of the season.
Kendry Morales sparked the winning rally with a leadoff single to left field off Rays reliever Grant Balfour. Morales took second on Reggie Willits' sacrifice bunt and third on Balfour's wild pitch.
Maddon employed a five-man infield, bringing Ben Zobrist in from center field and pinching the other two outfielders into the gaps, but Rivera lofted a fly ball to deep center to easily score Morales with the winning run.
"It's all mental," Angels center fielder Torii Hunter said about hitting against a five-man infield. "You know you have to hit it to the outfield, but that can mess you up. You can press, trying to lift it over the infield, and miss your pitch."
Trevor Bell, recalled from triple-A Salt Lake Monday afternoon, struck out cleanup batter Evan Longoria with a runner on first to end the top of the 11th and earn the win.
The victory improved the Angels to 14-1 at home against the Rays since 2006, the year Maddon took over in Tampa Bay. The Angels are also 35-6 in their last 41 home games against the Rays, who entered Monday with the best road record (13-3) in the big leagues.
"We're probably 1-14 at their park," Angels Manager Mike Scioscia said. "They're a tough club, and you have to play well to beat them. They pressure you in a lot of ways, and as they showed tonight, there's no quit in them."
Joel Pineiro gave the Angels 6 1/3 superb shutout innings, allowing five hits, striking out seven and walking one, and Hunter (solo shot in the third inning) and Mike Napoli (two-run shot in the fourth) hit home runs off Rays starter Matt Garza to give the Angels a 4-0 lead.
As Napoli's second homer of the season cleared the wall in left-center, Garza, who gave up a single to Howie Kendrick to open the fourth, smacked his glove with his bare hand and stalked toward second base.
The fired-up right-hander then retired 13 of the next 15 batters, the only Angels reaching on Reid Brignac's throwing error on Erick Aybar's fourth-inning grounder to second and Garza's two-out walk to Hideki Matsui in the eighth.
That gave the Rays a chance to come back, and they rallied in the eighth inning off Rodney, who had not allowed a run in his previous 12 2/3 innings.
Longoria doubled to right field to spark a two-out rally, Carlos Pena walked, and John Jaso hit a run-scoring single to left to pull Tampa Bay to within 4-1.
Fuentes took over to start the ninth and struck out Gabe Kapler to open the inning, but Willy Aybar, who entered as pinch-hitter in the seventh and remained in the game, smoked a solo home run to deep left to make it 4-2.
Jason Bartlett reached on an infield single, beating Kendrick's throw on a grounder toward the middle. Carl Crawford flied to right field for the second out, but Zobrist walked to put runners on first and second.
Longoria, the former Cal State Long Beach star, followed with a double to the left-center field gap to score two runs and tie the score, 4-4.
Fuentes hit Pena with a pitch, and both runners advanced on a wild pitch that the left-hander threw behind the back of Jaso and to the backstop.
But Fuentes, who suffered his second blown save of the season, recovered to get Jaso to pop to second for the final out of the inning.
"His fastball command was a little erratic," Scioscia said. "He tried to come in on Aybar and didn't get it in there. He tried to get ahead of Longoria with a changeup, and Longoria jumped on it."
Fuentes said the walk to Zobrist is what hurt the most.
"That came back and got me," he said.
The left-hander now has a 7.04 earned-run average in eight games, and he has four saves in six opportunities. Asked how his confidence was, Fuentes said, "It's not good tonight but tomorrow it will be fine."
Scioscia has two other attractive closing options in Rodney and Jepsen, but he didn't sound like a manager who was ready to change bullpen roles.
"We've got to let this keep moving forward," Scioscia said. "We haven't seen enough of this to evaluate it. We're going to need all three of those guys to settle in and get the job done the way we know they can."
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