Road-warrior Rays win fifth straight series
Tampa Bay heads home after 7-2 road trip
TORONTO -- As the old adage goes, successful teams need to win at home and split on the road, but the Rays are doing much more than just that.
The team wrapped up a nine-game road trip on Sunday by taking the rubber match against the Blue Jays, 8-4, at Rogers Centre, powered by a five-run eighth inning that included a pinch-hit home run by Guillermo Heredia.
Tampa Bay heads home with a 7-2 record on the road trip, and its fifth straight series victory, which extended a franchise record to start a season. The club is now 12-4 overall, matching its 2010 record for the best 16-game start in franchise history. Ahead of Sunday’s slate of games, Tampa Bay held the second-best record in the Majors and the second-best run differential, at +34. The Rays also own MLB’s best record since last year’s All-Star break (53-29), and since the start of last August (48-23). They now lead the American League East by 5 1/2 games.
“Good teams find ways to win on the road,” Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash said before Sunday’s win. “You always want to win at home but getting out, our first trip, longer trip, [a] unique trip in that we covered three different time zones, and played the way we have..."
“It’s awesome,” said Adam Kolarek, who earned the win in relief for Tampa Bay on Sunday. “It’s amazing. I certainly haven’t played on a team like this. I really haven’t seen too many teams like this, that have been able to carry over momentum so strongly from the previous season.
“What we were able to build, starting July, August and through September last year really carried over. And a lot of us, we may not have that long history of big league success but everyone’s out here playing confident like we’ve been here for a long time. It’s great to see.”
Outhit by the Blue Jays early in Sunday’s rubber match, Tampa Bay took advantage of some defensive miscues by Toronto to provide the support its pitchers would need before offering the added cushion in the eighth.
The Rays put one run on the board in the third and added two more in the fourth, thanks to errors from Blue Jays second baseman Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and pitcher Marcus Stroman.
“All the games are not going to be traditional-style baseball -- a slugfest or pitching duels,” Cash said. “You’ve got to capitalize on little things. And little moments in some of these games -- I know it got separated at the end, but it certainly didn’t feel separated for six, seven innings, whatever it was.
“But it was nice that the inning we didn’t leave the infield, we were able to get two runs, was huge. We capitalized on a couple of their missed throws ... and then Charlie [Morton], we trust him so much. We’re confident he’s going to make pitches when it’s on the line.”
Morton’s start was shortened because of an error from the visitors, when Daniel Robertson misplayed a ground ball to third with two outs in the fifth. Morton pitched 4 2/3 innings, allowing just one run on four hits with three walks and four strikeouts.
“Our pitching really stands out,” Cash said. “We’ve had some great offensive performances also, but we’re built to pitch and defend, and find ways to win tight ball games. And I think that will continue being a theme throughout the season.”
So far, all of the things going the team’s way and the success it has found has been credited to the camaraderie the team has built, and the fun it has brought into the clubhouse.
“We value that so much,” Cash said. “Most managers, staffs, will tell you that the more that players, the organization, and everybody involved can build an atmosphere where players enjoy coming to the ballpark and being around each other, the better [the] chance for success.”
In his first season with the Rays, 12-year veteran Morton believes this team has a lot in common with the other successful teams he has played for in the past, making the playoffs with the Pirates in 2013, and the Astros in ’17 and ’18.
“[It’s about] gaining momentum, like this team is doing,” Morton said. “Gaining momentum -- it makes coming to the park every day fun. You look forward to coming to the park every day, because you know we’re going to go out there and win a game.
“But then when you hit adversity and you hit some rough patches, limiting those rough patches to just a couple games can be [important], and if not, just bouncing back real strong. So the big key being the clubhouse; the chemistry in the clubhouse. That’s how teams rebound from difficulties and that’s how teams maintain momentum, so we’re in a good spot.”