By Adam Berry
ST. PETERSBURG — When the Rays are at their best, playing like they hope to be down the stretch and into October, they’re getting contributions from up and down the roster. They aren’t beating teams with superstar performances — they’re wearing down opponents with depth.
It’s a formula that helped them win 100 games last season, and it was on full display in the Rays’ 5-1 win over the Rangers on Saturday night at Tropicana Field. Everyone played a part as the Rays extended their cushion for a postseason spot over the Orioles to 5 1/2 games (plus the tiebreaker) and improved to 27-16 since the start of August.
Six pitchers helped silence Texas’ lineup, and four hitters drove in at least one run each. They scored on a home run by No. 8-hitting Taylor Walls, sacrifice flies by Wander Franco and David Peralta and a two-run double by Isaac Paredes. Jose Siri might have had the best day at the plate for Tampa Bay, going 3-for-3 with two runs scored while batting ninth.
“It was a complete team effort,” Siri said through interpreter Manny Navarro. “Everyone did their part in contributing one way or another, and hopefully we can do that going forward.”
With what’s at stake for the Rays as they jockey for position alongside the Blue Jays and Mariners in a tightly packed American League Wild Card race, it doesn’t matter where the contributions come from or what they look like. They’re just looking for wins.
“That’s been the atmosphere all year, so it’s nice to see everything clicking at this time,” reliever Jason Adam said. “It doesn’t matter if you win 11-nothing like we did [Thursday in Toronto] or you win like today or you win 1-nothing. Just whatever it takes to get that win, we’re all bought in. We want to play into November.”
The way the Rays scored their first two runs, after struggling to convert with runners in scoring position in a frustrating defeat on Friday, reflected a mindset manager Kevin Cash mentioned after the game.
“Just score,” Cash said. “Score and win.”
Rookie Jonathan Aranda, batting leadoff for the first time in the Majors, was hit by a pitch to begin the first inning. Franco then slapped a single to center, and Aranda moved up to third on a Harold Ramírez grounder. Up came Peralta, who lifted a sacrifice fly to left field to give the Rays a lead.
They then manufactured another run in the third inning. Siri smacked a single to center, immediately stole second base, advanced on Aranda’s groundout to second then trotted home on Franco’s sacrifice fly to center.
“Just doing the little things,” said Siri, who is batting .260 with 31 runs scored in 41 games since joining the Rays prior to the Trade Deadline.
Jonah Heim homered off Ryan Yarbrough in the fourth inning, but Walls answered with a solo shot of his own in the fifth off left-hander Taylor Hearn. It was the switch-hitting Walls’ eighth career home run but his first in the Majors as a right-handed hitter.
“I think we’re going to see Taylor Walls hit home runs right-handed and hit them left-handed,” Cash said. “I know this has been a trying year, but [when] you get to this part of the season, your stats really don’t matter too much anymore. We’re just trying to win games.”
Paredes’ two-run double in the seventh gave the Rays some breathing room, although their pitchers didn’t need it. After giving up a leadoff single in the eighth, Adam avoided Heim’s line-drive comebacker (“Obviously a scary moment,” he said) and Franco started an inning-ending double play.
That was just part of an excellent full-staff performance in which Tampa Bay allowed only six hits and two walks while striking out eight. Opener Shawn Armstrong recorded the first five outs. Yarbrough covered three innings. Javy Guerra loaded the bases in the fifth but retired Heim to get out of the inning.
“Beeks put on a clinic today. Army put on a clinic. Yarbs shoved. Javy got that huge out. Brooks shut it down,” Adam said, cracking a smile. “Who am I missing? Me. I didn’t die.
“It’s an awesome staff to be a part of.”