Top to bottom, Rays' lineup is riding high

Season-best five-homer outburst against Orioles lifts club to fifth straight win

May 19th, 2021

For a few minutes on Tuesday night, the Rays allowed the Orioles to climb back in the game. Their eight-run lead after 2 1/2 innings had been cut in half at the end of the fourth, and there was still plenty of time remaining. But then the Rays did what they’ve done throughout this five-game winning streak: They kept hitting.

and each ripped a three-run homer off Matt Harvey in the second inning, continued to produce at the plate with a couple of two-run shots, and Tampa Bay slugged its way past Baltimore with five home runs in a 13-6 win to open a three-game series at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

The Rays are a season-high five games above .500 (24-19) after tying their longest winning streak of the season. They’ve won 11 of their past 15 games and 19 of their past 30. And they’ve outscored opponents 44-15 as their offense has come alive over the past five games.

“The numbers that we've put up here lately offensively, when you're scoring that many runs, it takes a [whole] lineup contribution,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “And we are, we're seeing just a bunch of guys -- top of the order, bottom of the order, middle of the order -- all contributing in different ways.”

Before this turnaround began, it seemed like a lack of hitting was contagious for the Rays, and everyone was allergic to hits with runners in scoring position. A few weeks later? It’s just the opposite. On Tuesday night, every Tampa Bay starter had at least one hit, and eight of nine scored at least one run.

“There's still a sense of urgency, but guys are trusting in their abilities,” Zunino said. “And when they do that, we start picking up some steam like this, and it's just a tough lineup to pitch to from top to bottom.”

After reached on a leadoff single to left in the second, dropped a popup in front of right fielder DJ Stewart for a single. One out later, Phillips smacked his second home run of the season to right off Harvey.

If anyone was concerned about Monday’s off-day stalling the Rays’ momentum, that homer erased any doubts. It was just the beginning of an inning in which Tampa Bay sent 10 batters to the plate, chased Harvey and forced Baltimore to throw 45 pitches.

“It always feels great. When you're winning, there's no better feeling, no better environment than a winning environment,” Phillips said. “As for the bats, I know early on you guys were wondering where they've been at. And it was only a matter of time with the talent we have and the guys we have.”

then hustled for a double, reached on an infield single, and Meadows went deep to right-center for his ninth home run of the season. That briefly broke Meadows’ tie with Zunino for the team lead, but Zunino had an answer for that. Two, actually.

In the third inning, Zunino crushed his ninth homer out to center off reliever Tyler Wells. That brought the Rays’ lead to 8-0, but the Orioles made it interesting in the fourth when starter lost his command after looking sharp in his first three innings. Patiño allowed one run before exiting after 3 1/3 innings and 82 pitches, then Baltimore plated two runs with a ground ball and Trey Mancini's single, making it a four-run game.

and settled things down on the mound, and the game wouldn’t stay close for much longer. With one out in the fifth, Zunino bashed his team-leading 10th home run of the season to left field off Travis Lakins.

After his first multihomer game since Aug. 8, 2018, Zunino leads the team with an .878 OPS. The catcher’s offensive adjustments, which began two offseasons ago and began to take hold during the postseason last year, have made him a legitimate and consistent threat in Tampa Bay’s lineup.

“He's confident in his ability, which he should be because there aren't many guys that can hit as hard as he can,” Cash said. “I think he simplified some things, and it's really nice to see it pay off for him. He's in obviously a very good spot. We're thrilled with Z's overall play.”

The Rays have to be thrilled with the current state of their entire lineup, too.

got in on the act in the sixth, slapping an RBI single to left after walks by Arozarena and Meadows. Tampa Bay’s fifth home run of the night was ’s first of the season, a two-run shot to center in the eighth inning. By the time it was over, the team that had faced night after night of questions about a quiet offense could once again speak about a big day at the plate.

“Once you break out of a skid like that ... the floodgates sort of open,” Zunino said. “Guys stayed positive through it, and now guys are feeding off each other in the other aspect.”