ST. PETERSBURG — The Tampa Bay Rays won a game Wednesday night, and designated hitter Pat Burrell played a big role.
Burrell helped the Rays beat his old team, the Philadelphia Phillies, with a two-run homer in the second inning and a force out that scored a run in the eighth inning of the Rays’ 7-1 victory at Tropicana Field.
“It’s fun because I know the (Phillies),” Burrell said. “But more importantly for me is being back on the field and helping us win.”
It was just the second home run of the season for Burrell, who signed a two-year, $16 million contract in the offseason to become the Rays’ designated hitter and give the team a right-handed power bat. The two-run shot to left field off Joe Blanton snapped a career-long streak of 104 homerless at-bats, which stretched across 33 games.
Rays manager Joe Maddon thinks Burrell is about to prove why the Rays signed him in the offseason.
“I think his hands are coming around, and when his hands get better, I think you’ll see that on a more consistent basis,” Maddon said. “I think he’s going to get toasty and on a prolonged basis.”
Burrell entered Wednesday’s game 3-for-17 with five walks since returning from the disabled list after missing 29 games with a neck strain. He was 1-for-4 Wednesday with a season-high three RBIs and put one point on his batting average, raising it to .235.
When asked if Wednesday’s game could be the turning point of his season, Burrell said “I hope so.”
“They brought me over here to play,” he added. “It’s nice to be healthy and contribute and be a factor in the game.”
Heart and hustle — The Rays made outs at home plate and third base in the eighth inning, but scored five runs because of the out Ben Zobrist didn’t make.
The second baseman hustled to second and avoided being forced out to end the inning when Burrell hit a slow grounder to Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins.
“(Zobrist has) got to get all the credit there,” Burrell said. “All I did was hit it slow enough for him to get to the base.”
The bases were loaded and a run scored on the play to give the Rays a 3-1 lead.
Jason Bartlett followed with a two-run single, and Gabe Gross added a two-run double before being thrown out trying to stretch the double into a triple.
“It’s game-awareness,” Maddon said of Zobrist being able to avoid being forced out. “There are a lot of guys who are not going to give you that effort at that moment.”
Fighting back – The five-run eighth started after B.J. Upton was thrown out at the plate trying to score from third on Willy Aybar’s fly ball to shallow left field.
“The thing I loved about it was that they turned that double with the fly ball to (left fielder Matt) Stairs, and we kept on fighting,” Maddon said. “It could have easily been 2-1 and had a different feel in the ninth inning. Our guys just kept coming back. I love that fight.”
Instead of calling for J.P. Howell to protect a one-run lead in the ninth, Maddon used Randy Choate, who pitched another scoreless inning for the bullpen.
Bartlett tied McCracken — Jason Bartlett said he didn’t want to talk about his hitting streak after he extended the streak to 18 games with his eighth-inning single. The hit tied Quinton McCracken’s team record set back in 1998.
Bartlett’s streak is the second-longest active streak in the majors, behind the Chicago Cubs’ Derrek Lee, who extended his streak to 21 games Wednesday.
Bartlett drove in two runs with his eighth-inning hit, giving him 20 RBIs in his past 17 games and 35 for the season. He had 37 RBIs in all of 2008.
Bartlett is also batting .382 during the hitting streak.
More on Garza — The Rays right-hander matched his season high when he worked eight innings in Wednesday’s victory. He allowed only three hits. Opposing teams are batting .210 against Garza, who took over the AL lead in opposing batting average from former Ray Edwin Jackson (.214).
The seven runs were the second-most run support Garza has received this inning. The Rays averaged 3.93 runs per nine innings during Garza’s 14 starts.
Aki’s surprise — Second baseman Akinori Iwamura said he was surprised to learn the damage to his left knee wasn’t as extensive as everyone though. Instead of being out for the rest of the year, Iwamura can be back in six to eight weeks after the scheduled reconstructive surgery Monday to repair a torn ACL turned out to be an arthroscopic surgery to repair a partially torn ACL.
“When I get back on the field I want to be 120 percent,” Iwamura said.
But Iwamura added he won’t return until he feels he’s fully healthy.
“I still can not believe what happened to me,” he said.
NOTEWORTHY — B.J. Upton extended his hitting streak to six games with his eighth inning double. He is batting .417 in his last eight games with five doubles, two home runs and nine RBIs ... Joe Blanton became the first Phillies starter to lose a game on the road since Jamie Moyer lost at Cincinnati on May 20. Blanton also lost for the first time in his last seven starts, a streak that stretched back to May 9 ... The Rays bullpen has a 1.23 ERA since June 8 ... Jayson Werth hit his sixth interleague home run, which Rays have the best home record in the majors at 16-5.