Rays shake, move, swim(!) their way to sweep

June 26th, 2022

ST. PETERSBURG -- It seemed like the rally was short-circuited and the inning was over. But the Rays were given new life, ignited by an overturned replay call, and rallied for a 4-2 victory against the Pirates to complete a three-game series sweep on Sunday afternoon at Tropicana Field.

 was initially called out on an attempted steal of second base, and the Pirates trotted off the field as the seventh inning seemingly ended to continue a 1-1 game. Arozarena, though, protested that he was safe. And replays confirmed that.

After Tyler Beede’s up-and-in 1-1 pitch to Ji-Man Choi, the throw from Pirates catcher Tyler Heineman to shortstop Diego Castillo was there perfectly as Arozarena appeared to slide into the tag. But replays showed that Arozarena pulled his left hand away from Castillo’s waiting glove, then reached his right arm around to tag second base.

The deft improvisation -- the “swim move’’ as Rays manager Kevin Cash described it -- changed everything.

Arozarena remained safely on second base. Choi, with new life of his own, ran the count to 3-1 and stroked a go-ahead RBI double just beyond diving right fielder Cal Mitchell. After Harold Ramírez was intentionally walked, Josh Lowe and scorching-hot  delivered run-scoring singles.

The Rays had an insurmountable 4-1 advantage.

It made a winner out of left-hander  (8-3), who allowed just four hits over seven innings, walked none and struck out 10 to hike his MLB-leading total to 123.

But it was all jump-started by Arozarena’s quick-thinking play.

“I didn’t get the greatest jump initially, so when I saw the ball got there before I did, [I thought], 'I’m going to have to change what my hands are doing in order to be safe,'’’ Arozarena said through team interpreter Manny Navarro. “Just at the moment, I was able to change my hands.’’

The Pirates stood in foul territory by their third-base dugout. Arozarena remained sitting on the ground at second base. Meanwhile, the JumboTron replay revealed the truth as the crowd roared more loudly with every angle.

“All I was thinking was, ‘Please be safe,’" Choi said through team interpreter Daniel Park.

He was safe. Ultimately, so were the Rays.

“You’ve got to be some kind of athlete to pull that off, going full speed into a base head first and have the wherewithal to make that last-second adjustment,’’ Cash said. “We know he can do special things on the bases. It probably hasn’t come that easy to this point [with Arozarena consistently making base-running outs]. Speed is part of his game. We want to try to find ways to utilize it.’’

McClanahan, who had another shutdown outing, already was in the dugout and done for the day, looking at his third consecutive no-decision (with a total of three earned runs allowed) if Arozarena had been called out.

“That move shows how athletic and talented Randy is,’’ McClanahan said. “Immediately, he looked in the dugout and gave us the ‘No, no, no.’ Kudos to him. He made a play when we needed it.’’

McClanahan made plenty of plays himself. He retired his last 11 batters, including striking out the side in the sixth inning, with his usual assortment of fastballs, changeups, curveballs and sliders.

Meanwhile, Paredes continued his week for the ages. In his last four games, Paredes is 10-for-15 with five home runs (including three against the Yankees on Tuesday), two doubles and nine RBIs in 17 plate appearances. He followed up Saturday’s walk-off hit victory with his second consecutive three-hit performance.

“I don’t know when the Player of the Week voting comes out, but he’s got to be at the top of somebody’s list because he’s been pretty spectacular,’’ Cash said. “He’s seeing the ball really well. We’re learning a little bit about him as we go. We’re impressed with his presence, his calmness in the box and his confidence.’’

The Rays will take that confidence into Tuesday’s home game against the Brewers, who visit for a two-game series. Tampa Bay has won 10 consecutive Interleague games this season and is 17-1 against National League teams at Tropicana Field dating to 2021.