ST. PETERSBURG -- Joe Maddon's pencil, coupled with a superlative pitching performance by Alex Cobb, led the Rays to a 3-0 win over the Marlins Sunday afternoon at Tropicana Field with a Father's Day crowd of 33,810 watching.
The win allowed the Rays to claim the weekend series while also minting their fifth win in six games against the Marlins this season. The Rays finished the six-game homestand with a 2-4 mark as they prepare to go on the road for stops in Washington, Philadelphia and Kansas City.
Quality information, hunches and blind luck all seem to be a part of some out-there equation that serves Maddon's innate ability to write out a lineup that only a mother could love and still get results. Sunday delivered yet another example of Maddon spitting in the face of conventional wisdom and coming out on top.
For starters, Maddon did not start regular left fielder Desmond Jennings and he inserted B.J. Upton into the leadoff spot, which Jennings normally occupies. Upton responded by leading off the game with his fifth home run of the season on a 3-1 pitch from Josh Johnson.
"He's a tough guy to face," Upton said. "He's a really good pitcher and hitting first today, I thought it was really important to get off to a good start. And I got a pitch I could handle. I think he wanted it to be a little farther out than where he threw it and I just took advantage of it."
Upton in the leadoff spot wasn't the only Maddon magic. Drew Sutton got penciled in at third base and hit eighth in the lineup, moving Sean Rodriguez to shortstop and giving Elliot Johnson the day off. But when Matt Joyce became a late scratch due to flu-like symptoms, Maddon moved Hideki Matsui from DH to left field and inserted Johnson into the lineup.
Johnson responded by drawing a walk in the sixth, stealing second and scoring on a single by, you guessed it, Sutton.
Upton led off the Rays' seventh and reached base on an error by first baseman Gaby Sanchez that allowed Upton to get to second. Ben Zobrist followed with a single to left that drove Upton home for a 3-0 lead.
"That's just Joe, man," said Upton when asked about Sunday's lineup. "We know he's going to shuffle the lineup around. In reality, you're only hitting in that spot at the beginning of the game, so it really doesn't matter."
But more times than not, Maddon's team seems to come out on top when he flips around the lineup and the order, a fact Maddon attributed to the players' acceptance of the tactic.
"The players dig it," Maddon said. "You had a fresh body in Sutton out there, you had a fresh body in [Will] Rhymes out there. [Jose] Lobaton was relatively fresh, also, I thought. So we had different guys who had not been playing often who were relatively fresh. As it turned out, Matsui was a fresh body on defense, too. ... I think the players like it. And if you have a really eager group like we do, a lot of times, it works out well."
Meanwhile, Cobb made his sixth start of the season for the Rays and left nothing but zeros in his wake, giving the Rays his best effort since being recalled from Triple-A Durham on May 19 to take the place of injured Jeff Niemann in the rotation.
Effectively mixing his changeup with his fastball throughout his seven-inning stint, the 24-year-old Cobb held the Marlins scoreless on two hits and a walk while striking out 10 to claim his third win of the season.
"He had a plus changeup," Gregg Dobbs said. "It seemed early on, and later on too, a lot of first-pitch strikes. He was getting out ahead, making us swing and miss and making us foul pitches off. He had very good stuff today. Very good. He's a good pitcher."
Of note, Cobb struck out a Marlins hitter for the third out in five of the first six innings.
"I felt horrible during my bullpen," Cobb said. "[When that happens] is when you sometimes pitch your best, because you focus on every pitch. It turned out pretty good.
"Everything [about his bullpen prior to the game] was horrible. Couldn't locate my fastball, changeup was up, didn't even come close. Thankfully, that made me zero in more than anything else."
Joel Peralta took over for Cobb and pitched a scoreless eighth, leading to closer Fernando Rodney, who got the final three outs of the game to preserve the victory and earn his 19th save of the season.
Rays pitchers allowed just one earned run in 33 innings against the Marlins during the three-game series.
"We just played a much better game today," Maddon said. "A much tighter game spearheaded by pitching."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.