Rays take gut punch to end historic April

'Pen gives up lead in ninth for Tampa Bay, which wraps up best first month in club history

May 1st, 2023

CHICAGO -- Entering the ninth inning, it seemed like Sunday’s Rays-White Sox series finale was headed toward a finish not unlike what we witnessed on Saturday.

Indeed, the Rays put together a massive late rally against the White Sox, just as they did in Saturday's blowout win. But the South Siders answered with a stunning rally of their own to walk off Tampa Bay, 12-9, at Guaranteed Rate Field, ending Chicago's 10-game losing streak.

“It [stinks],” first baseman said. “It's part of the game. I don't even know what to say. This team has played awesome all the time. It's hard to feel like we had that one in our grasp and let it go.”

The Rays erased a 4-2 deficit with a five-run eighth inning, and they added two insurance runs in the ninth to enter the bottom half with a 9-5 lead. But the White Sox scored seven times, capped by Andrew Vaughn’s walk-off three-run homer.

“Ultimately, we just didn't execute pitches,” manager Kevin Cash said of the ninth. “Credit the White Sox. They came back. They continued to have really good at-bats.”

Facing and , the White Sox sent nine batters to the plate in the ninth, tagging Beeks for four hits -- finding holes via ground-ball singles by Eloy Jiménez and Lenyn Sosa, a bloop double down the right-field line by Jake Burger and a soft line-drive single to right field by Elvis Andrus.

Three of those hits came with two strikes. Beeks credited the White Sox hitters while also recognizing he didn’t do a good enough job putting them away.

“I didn't feel like I was getting ripped by any means,” Beeks said. “They weren’t just lacing the ball around the field. They were putting it in good spots and making contact. So the thing that I'm taking away is, I gotta do better 0-2, need to get some swings and misses in those situations.”

Cash pulled Beeks in favor of Cleavinger with a 9-8 lead and runners on first and second. Cleavinger allowed the game-tying single to Adam Haseley, the first hitter he faced, on a flare to center field.

Vaughn then stepped up and hit a three-run homer.

“Just come in and try to fill up the zone and try to get an out there,” said Cleavinger of his mindset entering the game. “I wasn't able to get it done, which [stinks]. It's a tough one.”

Cleavinger said his pitch to Vaughn -- a 2-2, 79.4 mph slider -- was where he wanted it.

“He went down and got it,” Cleavinger said. “Credit to him for putting a good swing on it.”

Things happen over the course of 162 games in a six-month baseball season. But with how things have been going for the Rays, when they have a late lead, it feels like more often than not they’re going to win.

“Obviously, we’ve been rolling, and we expect to win,” Beeks said. “That’s kind of the feeling, so this is pretty frustrating. I'm going to go back and look at it, but I feel like we played a good game today. They just came up in the end. Give credit to them.”

Even with a tough loss, it was ultimately one game in a stellar opening month to the 2023 season.

The Rays will turn the calendar to May with a 23-6 record and a .793 winning percentage, the best in baseball. That’s far and away their most wins through April in franchise history. Nineteen previously stood as their high-water mark (2019), and their .739 winning percentage in ‘10 was their best through April.

They’ve hit 61 home runs, most in the Majors, and are the second team since 1900 to hit at least 60 in its first 29 games. (The 2000 Cardinals hit 64). On the pitching side, Tampa Bay’s starters entered the day first in MLB with a 2.81 ERA.

“This team is incredible. That’s really all I can say,” said Raley, who hit a pair of homers, including a Statcast-projected 431-foot blast to dead center field in the fourth. “From one to 26 on the roster, it's incredible, an incredible coaching staff and everything. I have all the faith in the world in these guys. We’ll bounce back, and we'll be all right.”

“It’s been pretty unbelievable,” Cleavinger said. “It’s been a lot of fun to be a part of, and we’ve won a lot of games. It’s a good group in here, and we're all kind of pulling for each other. Everyone just gets on the same page, and we were rolling for a while. I don't expect that to stop anytime soon.”