The value of Uehara

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - The Rays made things interesting in the eighth. And by “interesting,” I mean heart-pounding.

Michael Gonzalez returned to his little dome of horrors and walked the first two batters he faced, including Ben Zobrist on four pitches. He fell behind, 2-0, to Johnny Damon before retiring him on a foul pop.

Gonzalez was done. In his place came Koji Uehara, who didn’t walk a batter in his last 32 appearances of 2010.

Uehara got a called third strike on pinch-hitter Sam Fuld, who’s trying to help the Rays set a record for most third basemen used in one game. Manny Ramirez followed with an RBI single to left field, but Uehara made him keep the ball on the ground. Uehara couldn’t direct the ball, but it stayed on the ground. That usually brings good results.

Dan Johnson fell behind, 0-2, and grounded weakly to second baseman Brian Roberts.

Gonzalez threw 15 pitches, five for strikes. Uehara threw eight pitches, seven for strikes.

The game suddenly was blanketed by a calmness, if that makes sense.

Now it’s up to Kevin Gregg to close it out. He’s warming in the bullpen.

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