ST. PETERSBURG -- Following Tuesday’s one-run loss to the Red Sox, Rays manager Kevin Cash talked about the importance of his team finding a way to connect on the big hit and big pitch, especially during a stretch where the Rays had lost seven of eight games.
“We’ve talked about, ‘Let’s find a way to make the big pitch, get the big hit and make the big play,’” Cash said. “We did those things today and we came out with a much-needed win.”
Morton, who Cash called “the brightest spot” of the Rays’ season up to this point, was stellar again on the mound, allowing just two runs and striking out 11 over seven innings of work. Morton now has 12 wins and lowered his American League-best ERA to 2.60.
The right-hander, who came into Wednesday’s game leading the Majors with 92 strikeouts with his curveball, actually opted to go with his four-seam fastball in order to finish off at-bats against the Red Sox. Of his 11 strikeouts on Wednesday, Morton used the four-seam fastball to record seven of them. Morton threw 105 pitches, 75 for strikes.
“I felt good,” Morton said. “I think I did a good job of mixing and keeping them off-balance. I felt like they were protecting against curveball, and I happened to throw a fastball. [When] they were looking for heater, I threw a curveball. I think to get through that lineup and get seven in, it feels really good.”
With Morton on the mound, three runs were just enough to help the Rays get back in the win column before heading on the road to take on Toronto and Boston. And behind some more creative strategy from Cash, the combination of Adam Kolarek, Chaz Roe and Emilio Pagán was able to shut the door over the last two innings.
“They got it done,” Cash said.
After retiring Sam Travis in the eighth inning, Kolarek was placed at first base, as Roe entered the game to pitch to Mookie Betts. Once Roe retired Betts, Cash went back to Kolarek to pitch against the lefty-hitting Rafael Devers. The moves caused confusion over the Rays’ placement of their substitutions in the lineup, and the Red Sox ultimately decided to play the game under protest.
“I’m not sure exactly what they were saying,” Cash said. “My biggest concern was, whatever is taking place, can we speed it up. I have a guy out on the mound that’s kind of just standing there, which is a little uncharacteristic in any game, and it was tight at that point.”
Capitalizing on their opportunities has been a struggle for the Rays, who improved to just 44-43 over their last 87 games. The Rays entered Wednesday’s game batting .153/.250/.333 (11-for-72) with runners in scoring position over their last 12 games, and the team struggled yet again in the finale, going just 1-for-7 in those situations. Luckily for the Rays, they took full advantage of their scoring chance against David Price in the fifth inning.
Tommy Pham first got the Rays on the board in the fourth inning by connecting on a solo homer to pull Tampa Bay within a run. Since the break, Pham has hit three home runs and is now tied for the team lead with 16 roundtrippers this season.
In the fifth inning, Michael Brosseau led off with a single and advanced to second on a wild pitch by Price. Joey Wendle then delivered an RBI single to center field. Brosseau got a good read on the play and was able to beat out Jackie Bradley Jr.’s throw from the outfield. Two pitches later, Heredia shot a 93 mph fastball from Price into the gap in left-center to give the Rays the lead.
“[Heredia] has done a really good job in limited action,” Cash said. “He really does a nice job when he’s in there against left-handed pitchers and has a nice approach, and comes up with a huge double.”
The hit gave the Rays their first lead of the series and helped them win their first game at home against Boston this season. It was the 17th comeback win of the season for Tampa Bay.
“That was a big win,” Wendle said. “If they come in and sweep us at home, that’s not what you’re looking for at this time of the year, so to come out with a win in the last game was big for us.”