Rays' Soriano seals save in rare fashion
Nine-pitch, three-strikeout inning happens for just 44th time
ANAHEIM -- Rays closer Rafael Soriano had a lights-out ninth inning Monday night when he picked up his Major League-leading 38th save by striking out three Angels on nine pitches.
It is the 44th time the feat has been accomplished in Major League History. Three pitchers have done it twice.
With the Rays clinging to a 4-3 lead, Soriano struck out Erick Aybar on a foul tip, Mike Napoli swinging and Peter Bourjos, who went down swinging on the ninth pitch of the inning.
When asked if he had ever struck out the side before on just nine pitches, Soriano replied in his distinctive deep voice:
"Oh yeah, I think," he said.
But if Soriano has done so in the past, it had to be in the Minor Leagues or before the native of the Dominican Republic turned professional.
Ross Ohlendorf of the Pirates was the last pitcher to accomplish the feat, which he pulled off against the Cardinals on Sept. 5, 2009, when he mowed through Khalil Greene, Julio Lugo and Jason LaRue. LaTroy Hawkins of the Cubs was the last pitcher to perform the feat and earn a save while doing so, which he did on Sept. 11, 2004, against the Marlins when he struck out Jeff Conine, Juan Encarnacion and Alex Gonzalez.
"Nine really high-quality pitches," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "And beyond all of that it permits him to pitch tomorrow. When you get nine pitches in a row and get three outs, there's not a concern about bringing him back."
Longoria named co-Player of Week in AL
ANAHEIM -- Rays third baseman Evan Longoria has been named the co-Player of the Week in the American League with Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano.
Longoria hit .393 over the last seven days (11-for-26) with four doubles, a triple, three homers and 12 RBIs while slugging .929.
"I was surprised," Longoria said. " ... Any time you get any kind of award from Major League Baseball, it's an accomplishment and an honor to be included. So, again, the great week was very much needed for this ballclub. And that's been the biggest thing, trying to win."
For Longoria, the honor is his first weekly honor this season and the fifth of his career, which is the most in team history.
"I feel good, I've had a really, really good approach the last week and a half, and even when I'm not getting hits, I'm still squaring the ball up which is a good feeling," he said.
Longoria had a tepid June, when he hit .235 for the month and followed by hitting .284 in July. He is hitting .294 in August. When asked about what has triggered the change, he didn't have an answer.
"I don't know; it's just part of the game," Longoria said. "You go a little bit bad and start thinking a little bit too much and trying to maybe fix things that aren't even there. So it was just a matter of having a couple good swings in a row and starting to feel that confidence, a hitter's confidence again. Just going into the box and having confidence is the biggest thing."
Rays manager Joe Maddon said he believes Longoria has "got his physical mechanics back in order."
"Because of that, when he's seeing his pitch he's not missing it," Maddon said. "He's not fouling it off. He's not taking it. It's going fair, hard. When you teach hitting, whenever I taught hitting, the mental concept is that you put your body in position that if you see your pitch, you hit it hard and you keep it fair. You don't take it, and you don't foul it off. When he was going badly I think he was taking it or fouling it off."
Maddon said a hitter expanding his zone can also contribute to the problem.
"That's part of it, too," Maddon said. "But it's just part of what we do. When guys struggle and expand, all of a sudden they think there's something wrong with their mechanics. No, you're just swinging at balls. Swinging at bad pitches. Nobody hits those pitches. You can have the most pristine perfect physical mechanics ever invented and still be bad because nobody hits that pitch. So that's what you got to get across to hitters sometimes. You always research what you're thinking first before you go to the physical side."
Carl Crawford and Matt Garza have also won the weekly award this season.
Ekstrom optioned to make way for Davis
ANAHEIM -- Reliever Mike Ekstrom was optioned to Triple-A Durham after the Rays' 4-3 win over the Angels on Monday night.
The corresponding move will take place Tuesday, when Wade Davis will be reinstated from the 15-day disabled list.
Davis went on the DL on Aug. 10, retroactive to Aug. 6, with a right shoulder strain. He is now ready to make his 22nd start of the season and first against the Angels.
Davis is 9-9 with a 4.49 ERA this season.
Ekstrom, who made the team out of Spring Training before getting sent to Durham on April 27, was recalled on Aug. 9 to replace Jeff Niemann on the roster. He made three scoreless appearances during his latest stint, giving him an 0-1 mark with a 5.23 ERA in nine appearances.
Ekstrom was 5-1 with a 2.13 ERA in 34 games for the Bulls.
Rays get good news on Balfour
ANAHEIM -- Grant Balfour has missed 24 games since going on the disabled list on July 31 with an intercostal strain. But Rays manager Joe Maddon said he received some good news on Balfour on Sunday in the form of a report from the training staff.
"I got a little blurb on him," Maddon said. "Today he threw and he's throwing actually well. And he's coming along ahead of schedule.
" ... He came out of it with typical soreness. Nothing bothered him extraordinarily. So he's coming along really well and ahead of schedule. So when we get back we probably [will schedule some] bullpens until he gets into some simulated games and possibly some action. I really thought it was going to be longer."
At the time of his injury, the right-hander had a nice season going at 1-1 with a 2.08 ERA and 44 strikeouts in 43 1/3 innings.
Garza-Braden tilt makes for rare occurrence
ANAHEIM -- Sunday's matchup of Matt Garza and A's lefty Dallas Braden marked just the second time in the last 20 years two pitchers faced each other after throwing no-hitters earlier in a season, and, of course, Garza got the victory and Braden the loss.
According to Elias Sports Bureau, before this season, no pitcher had lost a game to a team he had thrown a perfect game against earlier in the same season since Sandy Koufax was beaten by the Cubs at Wrigley Sept. 14, 1965, five days after his perfect game against them in Los Angeles.
In addition to Braden losing in his next time out after throwing a perfect game against the Rays, Roy Halladay lost to the Marlins two weeks after his perfect game against them on May 29.
Sunday marked the third time this season the Rays used the same lineup in consecutive games; they have not gone three straight. ... The Rays are expecting to activate pitchers Wade Davis and Jeff Niemann for the Angels series, meaning the club will employ a different starting pitcher for each day of their seven-game road trip. ... Monday night will conclude a stretch of three days against lefty starters; the Rays entered Monday night's game a Major League-best 29-13 when the opposition starts a left-hander. ... The Rays still own the best road record in the Major Leagues at 37-24, but they are 4-6 in their last 10 games on the road.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.