ST. PETERSBURG -- Two games separated by 24 hours played out very similarly, at least for the first seven innings, between the Rays and Angels at Tropicana Field.
In both instances, the Rays built a sizeable lead and turned to their bullpen to seal the deal. Wednesday's 4-1 win -- unlike Tuesday's blown lead -- went exactly the way the Rays drew it up. With it, the Rays remained 2 1/2 games behind the Red Sox in the American League East.
"I saw a business-like approach among the group [Wednesday]," manager Joe Maddon said. "They did not like what happened last night and we did something about it today."
The difference came in the form of two scoreless innings and just 27 total pitches from the Rays bullpen, a far cry from the three-inning, 61-pitch meltdown that saw it give away Tuesday's lead.
"I want to show our bullpen guys how much confidence I do have in them, and I still believe they may be considered the best bullpen in the American League by the end of the season," Maddon said. "It's good for all of them."
After blowing his eighth save of the season against his former team a night earlier, closer Fernando Rodney blazed through the heart of the Angels lineup to notch his 31st save.
Rodney was hindered by an error Tuesday. Wednesday, he didn't allow a baserunner, striking out Mike Trout and Josh Hamilton to end the game.
"This game is, I think it's hard," Rodney said. "You know you're going to try and do the job every day, but sometimes you're not going to do it. Tonight, we made the plays. We made the fundamental plays. We did everything we're supposed to do. We stayed in the game together all night long."
Starter Chris Archer, who now has wins in two consecutive starts, looked like the same pitcher he was in July when he won the American League Pitcher and Rookie of the Month awards.
Archer pitched efficiently through seven innings and allowed just one run on five hits, his biting slider continually diving away from the Angels' bats.
The rookie is entering uncharted territory as a big league starter as Minor League seasons begin to wrap up this time of year, but he is showing no signs of slowing down.
After giving up a run on two hits and nearing the 100-pitch mark in the seventh, Archer got Chris Nelson to ground out on a 96-mph fastball.
"My velocity is still there," Archer said. "It's a mental hurdle more than it is physical for everybody. I do feel normal fatigue, but nothing that's of concern. When you're out there, you don't feel anything. When guys make great plays for you, when you're two games out, when you're atop the Wild Card, it all plays in."
The Rays jumped on Angels starter Garrett Richards early and had him out of the game by the fourth inning. They struck for one run in the first thanks to hits from David DeJesus and Ben Zobrist. Matt Joyce drove in DeJesus with a sacrifice fly.
"His first-pitch strike ratio was awful and his ball/strike ratio was awful. ... He just didn't seem as crisp tonight," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said of Richards. "He got into some tough counts and he just couldn't seem to make that good pitch when he needed it."
Tampa Bay got the swarm going again in the fourth, forcing Richards out of the game with three more runs. The Rays got hits from Desmond Jennings, Jose Lobaton, DeJesus and Zobrist. The final run of the inning scored by way of an Erick Aybar error before Richards was replaced by Buddy Boshers, who induced a double play to get out of the inning.
In only his fifth game with his new team, DeJesus has seven hits and is 6-for-11 in the leadoff spot.
"My job is to get on base. ... I trust those guys behind me to drive me in," DeJesus said.
Maddon is allowing his players to show up later than normal this homestand as part of "American Legion Week" and while playing a day game after a night game is never easy, perhaps the Rays will show up Thursday with a renewed sense of confidence knowing Wednesday's win went according to plan.
Sam Strong is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.