ST. PETERSBURG — With Baltimore throwing left-hander Wei-Yin Chen on Monday night, Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon loaded his lineup with every available right-handed hitter except one. That would be Jerry Sands.
Maddon had late-inning plans for Sands.
And wouldn’t you know, those plans worked.
For the second consecutive game, Sands came off the bench in the eighth-inning to drive in the winning run.
On Sunday, it was a broken-bat single.
On Monday, was a towering home run down the left-field line with Evan Longoria on first base that broke a 3-3 tie and gave the Rays a two-run lead in a game they would win, 5-4, in front of 10,576 at Tropicana Field.
It was the Rays’ fourth win in their last five games.
“We’ve been struggling to get some wins here lately,” Sands said. “It’s fun to be the guy that does it for the team.”
Sands is 3-for-6 this season as a pinch-hitter. He became the first major leaguer to have game-winning pinch-hits in consecutive games since Howard Battle for Atlanta on Sept. 7-8, 1999. Sands is the first American League player to turn that trick since Oakland’s Harold Baines on Sept. 21-22, 1990.
Maddon said he likes Sands as a pinch-hitter because the 26-year-old outfielder/infielder — called up last homestand when Wil Myers was placed on the disabled list — is an aggressive swinger, the kind who can turn a game with a homer.
“I just see him as not being overwhelmed in the situation,” Maddon said. “And he’s got that.”
By “that,” Maddon means power, although it was only the fifth career home run for Sands and the first since Sept. 20, 2011, when he was with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Sands has only three hits since his call-up – all as a pinch-hitter.
His first hit snapped the Rays’ streak of 0-for-34 with runners in scoring position. His last two won games.
When asked if he had success as a pinch-hitter during his Dodger days, Sands said, “I don’t know the stats, but I wouldn’t say no.”
Actually, he’s now 4-for-12 with five RBI.
“I’ve kind of got a little better at it, I’d like to say,” he said.
Sands’s blast bailed out Grant Balfour and Jake McGee, who both pitched the top of the eighth. That’s when the Orioles erased all of a 3-0 deficit with a run that scored when Nelson Cruz chopped a grounder to Longoria with the bases loaded that took too long to come down for the third baseman to have a play.
Balfour allowed hits to the first two batters he faced, and McGee, who replaced Balfour with one out, walked Chris Davis to load the bases before allowing the single to Cruz.
Maddon, who is sticking with his bullpen by committee, said he was going to use McGee for the ninth had Balfour retired the Orioles in order in the eighth. If not, McGee was coming in to face Davis, Baltimore’s power-hitting first baseman.
Juan Carlos Oviedo worked the ninth. He allowed a home run to former Tampa Bay player Delmon Young, but recorded his first save since Sept. 17, 2011.
All five of the Rays runs came on home runs. Yunel Escobar started the scoring with a first inning homer. Ryan Hanigan gave Rays starter Jake Odorizzi a 3-0 lead with a two-run homer in the fourth inning.
Adam Jones chased Odorizzi with a two-run homer in the sixth inning. That would be Odorizzi’s last pitch. It was the third time this season Odorizzi turned a lead over to the bullpen, and the third time he received a no-decision for his effort.
Longoria drew a leadoff walk with the score tied 3-3 in the bottom of the eighth.
Two outs later, Maddon send David DeJesus up to pinch-hit for Sean Rodriguez against Baltimore righty Darren O’Day.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter countered with lefty Brian Matusz.
Maddon then went with Sands.
“You see the lefty down there and you got to be ready, but I didn’t know I was going to hit until Davey came down and told me,” Sands said.
That would be bench coach Dave Martinez, who told Sands to “get mentally locked in,” when Showalter called for Matusz.
Matusz fell behind 2-0 to Sands, which helped Sands relax.
“Any time you get behind in the count to any professional hitter it’s never a good start,” Matusz said. “To follow up with a fastball right down the middle, you put yourself in trouble.”
Said Sands, “Didn’t want to miss it if he gave me something to hit right there. Just trying to get the head out and luckily it stayed fair.”
On Sunday, Sands broke three bats during his game-winning at-bat. On Monday, he needed just one.
“That’s was big,” he said. “I was a little short. Trinity (bats) got me a six-bat order in (Monday). I don’t know if that was a coincidence or not.”