Josh Lowe predicts back-to-back HRs as Rays improve to 5-0

Big lefty bats key ninth-inning rally for Rays, the only undefeated team in the Majors

April 5th, 2023

WASHINGTON -- At some point before first pitch Tuesday night at Nationals Park, saw his name listed after ’s on the Rays’ lineup card and made a prediction. It wasn’t the first time Lowe told Raley they would hit back-to-back homers, but it was the first time Lowe turned out to be correct.

Raley swatted a game-tying homer in the ninth inning, and Lowe immediately followed with a shot of his own, leading the Rays to a 10-6 win over the Nationals. With Minnesota losing to Miami, Tampa Bay (5-0) became the only undefeated team in the Majors.

“He called it,” Raley said. “I mean, we've thrown it out there a couple of times. Hadn’t happened yet, but today it worked.”

The Rays are the first team to begin a season with five consecutive wins since the 2016 Orioles, who got off to a 7-0 start. They have scored 37 runs, their most through five games in team history, and allowed only 11. Standout pitching performances from their starters paved the way for their first four victories, but their lineup carried the load Tuesday night.

Three batters in, they had a lead against Nationals starter Chad Kuhl. By the end of the top of the first inning, they were up three runs. But they went hitless between Jose Siri’s solo homer in the second inning and Randy Arozarena’s RBI double in the eighth, and starter Josh Fleming struggled in his season debut, allowing five runs on 10 hits while recording only nine outs.

Entering the ninth inning, the Rays were down by a run. Raley quickly changed that.

Washington reliever Kyle Finnegan fired a first-pitch sinker, and Raley clubbed it a Statcast-projected 372 feet down the left-field line. Watching from the on-deck circle, Lowe immediately raised his arms, knowing the ball was gone. Raley then celebrated the game-tying shot by pumping his fists and shouting back toward the Rays’ dugout.

“I was really fired up,” Raley said, smiling. “Maybe a little too much, but that's OK.”

Raley said he was even more fired up after Lowe’s go-ahead blast, which came on a 1-1 splitter and sailed a projected 429 feet out to right-center. He’d fulfilled his own prediction.

“We have talked about it so many times. We said, 'All right, today's the day because you're hitting in front of me,’” Lowe said. “Last year in [Triple-A] Durham, I hit in front of him a few times, then he hit the homer after me -- so I didn't keep up my end. Tonight, he decided to start, and I came through for us.”

Those blasts were meaningful in the moment, but also notable in the big picture. Despite stating their desire to acquire a veteran left-handed bat shortly after last season ended, the Rays stood pat all winter. Instead, they entered the year hoping Lowe and Raley would bring balance and provide power after the two lefty hitters spent most of last season in Triple-A.

So far, it’s working out. Lowe and Raley earned their spots on the team during Spring Training, when it became apparent Raley’s offseason swing adjustments were clicking and Lowe was noticeably more comfortable. Raley is 4-for-13, and he has three home runs in the past two games, Lowe is 6-for-14 with three doubles and a big homer, and this healthy version of Tampa Bay’s lineup has been productive despite the lack of offseason additions.

“They've given us no reason not to have a lot of confidence in them,” manager Kevin Cash said. “We've swung the bats really, really well. We'll take as much as we can get. But I think we're most encouraged about the young guys that are really doing some special things at the plate early on, Luke and Josh.”

The Rays didn’t let up after pulling ahead, as Yandy Díaz smashed a 111.8 mph three-run homer into Tampa Bay’s bullpen in left field. Right-hander Pete Fairbanks actually caught Díaz’s homer while warming up -- not for the first time, either -- before pitching a clean inning to seal the win.

“I've always said we have a really good team, and it's starting to show,” Díaz said through interpreter Manny Navarro. “We have a lot of speed. I won't say we're a very powerful, home run-hitting team, but good thing those home runs are coming out right now.

“It seems like everything's kind of falling into place for us, in every part of the game -- hitting, pitching and everything. Hopefully that can carry us into the World Series.”