Rays (9-0) match MLB's best start of Wild Card era

Tampa Bay has won all 9 by at least 4 runs, and it has outscored its opponents by 57

April 9th, 2023

ST. PETERSBURG -- For years, Kevin Kiermaier would lead the Rays’ postgame victory celebrations by chanting, rapping and recognizing key contributors from the game while music boomed through the winning clubhouse. They’ve developed new traditions this season, with reliever Ryan Thompson getting the group going as the unofficial hype man before Shane McClanahan and lead a tequila toast for the day’s top pitchers and hitters.

They’ve got the routine down pretty well at this point.

Nine games, nine wins, nine celebrations.

The undefeated Rays kept rolling on Sunday afternoon, sealing their third series sweep and securing a second straight shutout as they one-hit the A’s in an 11-0 rout at Tropicana Field. Tampa Bay matched the 2003 Kansas City club for the longest winning streak to start a season in MLB’s Wild Card era.

“When you win,” Harold Ramírez said, “you’re going to enjoy it a lot.”

The last season-opening winning streak longer than the Rays’ current run was the Brewers’ 13-gamer in 1987. Only six teams in AL/NL history have won 10 consecutive games to begin a season, a group the Rays will attempt to join Monday night against the Red Sox at The Trop.

Already, the Rays -- who are outscoring their opponents, 75-18 -- have put together one of the most all-around dominant starts in baseball history. They’re the first team since 1884 with a run differential greater than 50 through nine games, with their plus-57 mark ranking third all time behind the 1884 St. Louis Maroons (plus-78) and New York Gothams (plus-63).

Once again, the Rays rode stellar starting pitching and unexpected home-run power to win with plenty of room to spare. Each of their nine victories has come by at least four runs, the second-longest streak in MLB history to begin a season (behind the 1884 Maroons, at 13) and the longest such streak at any point in a season since the 1939 Yankees reeled off 10 in a row.

“Essentially just everything going exactly the way that we want to,” said Lowe, who slugged his third career grand slam in the fourth inning as part of a five-RBI performance. “This is incredible baseball that we’re playing, and we hope to keep it up.”

Right-hander continued to stifle hitters and relentlessly attack the strike zone, permitting only one hit while striking out eight over seven innings. In 13 innings over his first two starts of the season, Rasmussen allowed only three hits, struck out 15, didn’t walk anybody and ran up just one three-ball count.

Manager Kevin Cash said Rasmussen “set the tone” in Sunday’s series finale, while Rasmussen praised the Rays’ lineup for giving him plenty of room to work.

“It just opens things up. You have the opportunity to fill up the strike zone a little bit more, a little bit faster,” Rasmussen said. “The way they’re going right now is unbelievable. I can’t say enough good things.”

The Rays launched three homers off Oakland starter James Kaprielian and tacked on four runs against the A’s bullpen.  crushed an inside fastball to right field in the first inning, his fourth home run. Lowe showed his return to health with his opposite-field slam in the fourth. And Ramírez crushed a two-run, Statcast-projected 441-footer in the fifth, his third homer in the past four games.

But players and coaches weren’t buzzing afterward about those homers, which gave the Rays 24, one shy of the 2000 Cardinals’ AL/NL record through nine games. They were still talking about Ramírez’s effort on the bases.

With a runner on first and nobody out in the fourth, Ramírez legged out an infield single on a grounder to third. Ramírez was still on first with two outs when Christian Bethancourt slapped a grounder to shortstop Aledmys Díaz. More accurately, Ramírez was way off first base at the behest of first-base coach Chris Prieto.

Prieto saw how the A’s were shifted, with first baseman Ryan Noda allowing Ramírez to take a big lead. Then, Ramírez said, Prieto gave him a simple mission: “You’ve got to be on second, no matter what.” So Ramírez took off on contact and slid in safely to beat the throw from Díaz, keeping the inning alive and setting up Lowe’s grand slam.

“I think I owe him a steak later on this year,” Lowe said, smiling. “When a guy does that on something that he very easily could have just given up on, it kind of energizes the whole team, and it really paid off.”

“These guys are playing for each other,” Prieto said, “and you can see it on the bases.”