ST. PETERSBURG -- Due to recent offensive struggles, manager Kevin Cash was looking for a way to spark the offense, ultimately deciding to start all nine lefty bats on the roster against Boston right-hander Andrew Triggs.
Having nine left-handed batters in the starting lineup was a first in modern Major League history, and it turned out to be just the right lineup, as the Rays recorded 12 hits in the 11-1 win over the Red Sox on Friday at Tropicana Field.
The 11 runs were the most scored by the Rays since scoring 12 against the Marlins on Aug. 30. With the win and the Blue Jays' 18-1 loss to the Mets, the Rays hold a 4.5-game lead in the American League East with 15 games left in the regular season.
“A lot of people contributed,” said Cash. “Just a lot of good at-bats, so that was encouraging and something that hopefully we can continue to build off of.”
Starting the nine lefties in the lineup provided plenty of pregame talk on social media, but the reasoning behind it was simple for the Rays. Despite Triggs’ success against left-handers this season -- he came in to the start with lefties hitting 1-for-14 against him -- the Rays were confident that the Red Sox weren’t going to have Triggs on the mound for more than three innings.
Triggs, however, exited the game after the first inning with a pinched nerve on his neck. The injury ended up forcing Boston to bring in Matt Hall, which ultimately ended up playing in Tampa Bay’s favor as heading into the appearance, lefties were hitting .391 against him.
Yoshitomo Tsutsugo didn’t waste any time against Hall, leading off the second with his seventh home run of the season, a 437-foot blast that would’ve landed in the Ray Tank in right-center field. After a slow start to his Major League career, Tsutsugo is hitting .250 with three home runs in his past 10 games.
“At first I started off not-so-good and it wasn’t easy for me to come to the ballpark every day with a positive attitude,” Tsutsugo said through a translator. “But recently I’ve been able to adjust, and [I'm] getting better and have that mentality of not giving up and putting my best into everything I do.”
Once Tsutsugo got the Rays on the board, giving the team its first lead since Sunday against the Marlins, the rest of the offense seemed to settle in. The Rays got a run in the third on a Kevin Kiermaier RBI groundout and added two in the fourth on an Austin Meadows RBI double. Meadows now has a hit on back-to-back nights after going hitless in his previous 17 at-bats.
“Everybody played a role,” Cash said. “Even the guys that didn’t get hits, they had good swings. We were picking each other up. We did little things to put ourselves in good counts and when those counts came, we were able to do some damage once the game got underway.”
After Hall exited the game, the Red Sox used four relievers, all right-handed, which gave the Rays the matchups they wanted. Nate Lowe took full advantage of it, recording his second multihomer game in the Majors.
“We know Nate has a chance to really do some damage when he steps in the batter’s box,” Cash said. “I think as much as anything, it’s finding consistent reps for him, and we recognize that. Very excited and would like to see him go ahead and get hot, we’ll take anybody getting hot right now and maybe the rest of the guys will follow suit.”
Lowe, who was 1-for-14 entering Friday, credited part of his performance to some advice he received from Rays outfielder Brett Phillips. Lowe said that Phillips told him that he could only control his next at-bat, and that ended up resonating with him.
“To be able to break it down and slow it down like that was what really helped me out,” Lowe said. “To be able to get consistent at-bats even though it started off pretty slowly, I’m pretty thankful for the opportunity and I hope [the bat] gets hot from here. Like, super hot from here.”