The surging Rays won for the ninth time in 11 games Tuesday night, using Willy Aybar's two-run single to break an eighth-inning tie in a 4-2 victory against the Angels that gave Tampa Bay the best record in the American League.
The AL East leader overcame a strong pitching performance by Los Angeles' Ervin Santana, who took a no-hit bid into the sixth and left with a 2-1 lead after allowing one run and four hits in seven innings.
"It just means we're starting to do things in the right way," manager Joe Maddon said after Tampa Bay improved to 77-48 and held on to its 4½-game lead against second-place Boston in the division.
"We're making less mistakes. We're starting to believe in what we're doing. It just validates the work that we've done," Maddon added. "It's good. But still, there's a long ways to go. It's just nice to be there right now."
Los Angeles let the game slip away in the eighth when the Rays loaded the bases with no outs against Scot Shields (5-4) on two walks and an error. Carlos Pena drew a one-out walk from Darren Oliver, forcing in the tying run before Aybar singled.
James Shields (11-7) allowed two runs and nine hits in eight innings, and Dan Wheeler pitched a perfect ninth for his seventh save in eight chances as Tampa Bay improved to 6-2 against the AL West-leading Angels, including 5-0 at home.
The Rays won the series opener 6-4, getting two-run homers from Eric Hinske and Cliff Floyd. They scored their first run Tuesday night on B.J. Upton's infield RBI single, then scored three unearned runs in the eighth, with Aybar's hit the only ball getting to the outfield.
"I don't think we've played particularly bad in any of these games, but tonight was one bad inning," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said.
"We set the table for them and cracked it open further with an error and those guys capped it off with a hit. We just didn't get it done late. We've been doing a terrific job of that, but not tonight."
Maddon was ejected in the sixth for arguing with first-base umpire Jerry Meals after Upton beat out his RBI infield single to trim the Angels' lead to 2-1. Upton was called out when Meals ruled he turned toward second and was tagged out by second baseman Howie Kendrick.
Replays showed Upton, who hit a high chopper to first baseman Mark Teixeira, contorted his body to avoid a potential tag by Santana, who was covering first. However, it did not appear Upton, in the spotlight lately for a lack of hustle, turned toward second before being tagged by Kendrick, who was backing up the play.
Maddon bolted from the dugout and had an animated discussion with Meals before being ejected. The manager also had an exchange with second-base umpire and crew chief Gary Darling before leaving the field.
Maddon said the call was flat-out wrong, going as far as to describe it as "fabricated."
Upton apologized before the game for a "mental lapse" on the bases Monday night when he was thrown out at second base on what should have been a routine double, saying he didn't want to become a distraction for the Rays.
He was just happy to get some support Tuesday night from his manager, who in the past two weeks has benched the 23-year-old for two games and part of a third for not hustling.
"Things haven't really been the best lately ... and he went out there and he had my back," Upton said. "You've got to love it, and I'm glad he did. It shows me a lot."
Santana retired 11 in a row before walking Pena with two outs in the fourth. Jason Bartlett doubled down the line in left for the first hit with one out in the sixth.
"We've been pitching well, it's just, at the end, we cracked the door for them and let them win," Scioscia said. "It's frustrating because we didn't play well enough, certainly in the eighth inning. There's not much more you can say about it."
- Guerrero is 10-for-23 with two home runs lifetime against James Shields.
- Angels INF Maicer Izturis had season-ending surgery to repair a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his left thumb. He's expected to be ready for the start of spring training.
- The Rays are two games into a stretch in which they play 28 of 31 against teams in playoff contention, including six against the Red Sox.