SEATTLE -- Hard to say who's in more of a renaissance right now -- the Rays or Troy Percival.
In the last three years, Percival has been an out-of-gas flame thrower with a blown out elbow, an advance scout and, as of 14 months ago, a minor league coach.
Now, the supposedly retired closer is leading Tampa Bay toward the AL East title, a destination as improbable for him as it is for his team.
Carlos Pena hit his 21st home run, the 38-year-old Percival looked as dominant as ever while getting his 25th save and the Rays increased their lead in the AL East to 3½ games with a 5-3 victory over the Seattle Mariners on Friday night.
Tampa Bay's edge over second-place Boston is its largest since July 7.
Percival struck out two of the three batters he faced in a perfect ninth inning, blowing away Wladimir Balentien -- who had earlier hit a two-run homer -- and then pinch-hitter Willie Bloomquist to end save No. 25, in 28 chances. That's 17 more saves than he had from 2005-07.
Tampa Bay is 28-0 when he enters the game in a save situation. He has 349 career saves, eighth-most all-time.
Ask James Shields (10-7), who allowed three runs in 6 2/3 scrappy innings to get the Rays' eighth win in 10 games, how impressive Percival has been coming back and he laughs. Loudly.
"It's amazing, man," the 26-year-old Shields said of his fellow Southern Californian. "If I could throw half as good as he does when I'm 38, I'd be happy."
Not that's it's been as easy as it's looked.
"His arm feels good. The biggest thing is to keep the rest of him going," manager Joe Maddon said, also laughing.
Percival was the last man out of the training room later Friday night after helping his Rays improve to 24-29 on the road -- where 28 of Tampa Bay's final 47 games will be. He's been on the disabled list twice this season with hamstring problems.
When asked if he spends a lot of time in there these days, he cackled.
"Are you kidding me? It takes five innings to get ready to pitch one," Percival said.
He said he has to begin getting ready in the training room with stretching, lifting and agility exercises during the third inning if there's even a hint he may pitch the ninth.
"I'm not kidding. It's a lot," he said. "Used to be I'd grab a ball, throw the ninth inning and go home. Not anymore. It's a lot of work, but it's worth it to be with this team going where we are."
Tampa Bay is one victory from tying the franchise record of 70 wins in a season.
The recently surging Pena made up for the absence of Evan Longoria, the team's leader in home runs and RBI. Longoria is missing at least one day of his team's season-long, 10-game road trip because of a bruised hand.
Pena gave the Rays the lead in the second inning with his solo home run off Carlos Silva. He then singled home the final run of the decisive four-run third.
Silva (4-13) allowed eight hits and five runs -- four earned -- in six-plus innings to take the AL lead in losses. The Mariners sunk back to 26 games under .500 one night after stunning the Rays with a last at-bat home run.
The right-hander, signed to a $48 million, four-year contract as a free agent before Seattle's lost season, still has won just once since April 17.
"I don't care if we are 40 games behind, we should play better than this," Silva said, calling out position players for at least the third time this season. "I can talk about the starting rotation -- every time we cross the line we want to do our best. ... Maybe half of the team don't have that mentality."
Some of Silva's ire likely came from his defense giving the Rays half of their runs in the key third. With one out, No. 9 hitter Ben Zobrist, subbing for injured shortstop Jason Bartlett, singled. So did Akinori Iwamura. B.J. Upton singled home Zobrist to tie the game at 2. Then Carl Crawford hit a hard one-hopper that shortstop Betancourt snared, but Betancourt sailed his throw 10 feet over first base and into a camera well. The two-base error scored Iwamura and Upton to put the Rays ahead 4-2.
It was Betancourt's 17th error this season, most of any AL shortstop.
Pena then singled home Crawford to make it 5-2.
The Rays designated 38-year-old RHP Al Reyes for assignment after the game, to make roster room for RHP Chad Bradford's arrival Saturday. "It wasn't a surprise," Reyes said. Bradford was acquired off waivers from Baltimore Friday. ... The Mariners optioned RHP Jared Wells back to Triple-A Tacoma and recalled LHP Ryan Rowland-Smith from Tacoma to replace Miguel Batista in their rotation, beginning Saturday night. ... Tampa Bay is the sixth team dating to 1902 to be in first place on Aug. 8 or later after having baseball's worst record the year before. The 1991 Atlanta Braves were the only such team that ended the season in first place.