ST. PETERSBURG -- Ryan Hanigan is feeling something about his club that Reds fans have been seeking for a long time this season.
"Hopefully, we're close here to making a run," said the Reds' catcher. "We're starting to play better baseball. I think guys are healthy, and I think if a few things go right for us, we can make a little push here."
Wednesday's 4-3 Reds victory over the Rays was certainly a reason for Hanigan and his teammates to feel optimistic. Cincinnati took a hard-fought two of three games in the series to finish a six-game road trip through Baltimore and St. Petersburg with a .500 mark, at 3-3.
It was the 42-40 Reds' first Interleague series win in five tries this season, and their first series win anywhere since sweeping the Dodgers in Los Angeles from June 13-15.
Hanigan's three-run home run off James Shields played a large role, as did some nice starting pitching from Edinson Volquez. In 6 1/3 innings, Volquez gave up three earned runs on four hits, with three walks and seven strikeouts.
In the process, Hanigan and Volquez foiled a very hot pitcher in Shields, who was coming off three straight complete-game victories, with only one earned run allowed combined.
"I'm glad because we won the series," Volquez said. "It was a really good game for me."
The Reds drew some tough Rays pitching in this series, in Jeremy Hellickson, David Price and Shields, the trio combining to notch 31 strikeouts over three games -- including 10 over seven innings for Shields.
But the Reds' rotation was ready with an answer. On Monday, Mike Leake worked six scoreless innings toward a 5-0 shutout. Johnny Cueto was locked in a sensational duel with Price into the eighth inning on Tuesday, and Volquez was able to pitch purposefully with a lead that he never surrendered.
Cincinnati broke through against Shields in the fourth inning. Joey Votto led off with a grounded single up the middle, and Scott Rolen followed with single to right field. There were two outs when Hanigan came through with a three-run home run to left field for a 3-0 Reds lead.
For Hanigan, who sat out the last couple of games with a sore back, it was his third homer of the season, and his first long ball since he hit two of them on April 3.
Volquez, who lasted only 4 1/3 innings with five walks on Friday at Baltimore, held Tampa Bay hitless over his first four innings while facing one over the minimum batters. In the Rays' fifth inning, Casey Kotchman led off with a rolling single down the left-field line before Volquez retired the rest of the side in order.
"Volky threw awesome for us," Hanigan said. "It was good to see him go fairly deep in the game. His pitch efficiency was good today. He threw a lot of quality changeups in the zone, which you try to do."
The Rays put something together in the sixth, when Johnny Damon lofted a one-out single into right field and Ben Zobrist walked. Evan Longoria, who hit the game-winning home run for Tampa Bay in the ninth inning Tuesday, came through again with a blooped two-run double near the right-field line. Volquez escaped more trouble when Matt Joyce lined out to Brandon Phillips, who turned two by getting Longoria diving back to second base.
Shields opened the seventh with back-to-back walks before Drew Stubbs bunted into a fielder's choice that put runners on the corners. Paul Janish struck out, but Fred Lewis came through with a big two-out hit, an RBI single to left-center field.
"Freddy came through with a real big knock," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "That was the game-winner right there."
The insurance run was important because B.J. Upton slugged a solo home run to left-center field with one out in the seventh inning, finishing Volquez's afternoon.
"Shields pitched really well again," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "That one pitch to Hanigan was a curveball that he left up, and the 2-0 pitch to Lewis. That's their four runs right there."
In some important relief, Logan Ondrusek bounced back from giving up Longoria's homer on Tuesday with a perfect inning of work, recording the final two outs in the seventh and the first in the eighth. Bill Bray, who gave up a hard-luck blooped two-run double that blew a Cueto lead Tuesday, retired his two batters in the eighth. Francisco Cordero gave up one hit in the ninth, but got a game-ending double play for his 16th save.
If the Reds can make a run, as Hanigan senses, it would have to come against the Indians, second-place Cardinals and first-place Brewers over the final 10 games before the All-Star break. That would be a big way to kick-start the defending National League Central champs.
"We're trying to win as many games as we can before the break," Baker said.