It’s no secret why the Rays have put together a nine-game winning streak, tied for the second-longest streak in franchise history: They’re finding productivity from all over the place.
“The defense, the pitching and the offense are coming to life,” manager Kevin Cash said following Saturday’s 3-1 win over the Blue Jays. “All that has come together at the right time. And it’s allowed us to play some really, really good baseball.”
During this stretch of success, the offense is averaging over eight runs per game, and 11 players have homered. Meanwhile, the pitching staff has combined for a 2.89 ERA and with eight players collecting a win. On some nights, everything is firing. On other nights, one facet or another of the Rays’ game has been enough.
On Saturday, Tampa Bay flashed its ability to execute the fundamentals, and it all boiled down to the final two innings of what was then a 1-1 game.
In the eighth, Randy Arozarena led off with a single — Tampa Bay’s first leadoff man to reach safely on the night. Cash wanted to move Arozarena to second, so he called for a hit-and-run with Yandy Díaz at the plate. Toronto must’ve been wise to it, because reliever Anthony Castro threw a pitch-out — but Díaz was able to reach and spoil the pitch, saving Arozarena from a likely out at second.
Ultimately, Díaz moved Arozarena to second on a groundout, and Arozarena zipped to third on an errant pitch. Then Manuel Margot, in protect mode facing a 1-2 count, reached for a slider out of the zone and pulled it into left for a single, allowing Arozarena to score. With some heads-up baserunning and timely hitting, the Rays gave themselves a lead.
“The little things, [in] tight games like that, it matters,” Cash said. “It becomes magnified when it’s really close.”
The magnifying glass is always on when these teams play: Saturday marked their 11th consecutive matchup in which the game was decided by either one or two runs (dating back to Aug. 15, 2020). And these are both teams with playoff hopes in what’s been a crowded American League East to this point. So, as Cash said, the little things matter.
With the Rays still clutching a one-run lead entering the ninth, a new face found a way to contribute. Admittedly, shortstop Taylor Walls had already put his prints all over the game in his MLB debut — starting two double plays and doubling to right field in the fifth — but he saved his best for the end.
He doubled, again, in the ninth, which was special on its own. Walls is the third player in the modern era (since 1900) with an extra-base hit from both sides of the plate in his MLB debut, along with Rich Becker (two doubles) in 1993 and George Wright (double, home run) in 1982, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Then he dazzled with his legs, sprinting toward third on a wild pitch and coming home on an ensuing throwing error from Blue Jays catcher Danny Jansen. That gave the Rays a crucial bit of insurance, and it caught the eye of the manager.
“We were all pumped,” Cash said. “Big night for Taylor. He played great defense, made some nice plays, came up with big hits. [But] the baserunning might’ve been the highlight. Two doubles is awesome, but he put pressure on the defense and added that third run, which was big for us.”
From there, Tampa Bay’s bullpen finished the job, with Diego Castillo earning his eighth save in 10 opportunities. The bullpen as a whole allowed just two hits and two walks over four scoreless innings, one night after allowing two runs (one earned) in 7 1/3 innings.
“Our pitching is just outstanding,” Cash said. “To do what we’ve done here the last two nights, especially from the bullpen on, pretty spectacular the way they’re limiting a very good Toronto offense.”
Some nights during the win streak, the Rays’ pitching has dominated. Other nights it’s been the offense. But honestly, most of the time it’s been both.