ST. PETERSBURG -- The Cubs' winning streak, Chicago's Interleague schedule and Joe Maddon's homecoming parade all ended on Wednesday night at Tropicana Field.
Steven Souza Jr. smacked his 30th home run, Wilson Ramos added a two-run single and Blake Snell threw seven scoreless innings to spark the Rays to an 8-1 victory over the Cubs and split the Interleague series.
It was Tampa Bay's fourth win in its last 12 games, putting the Rays four games back of the Twins for the second American League Wild Card spot. The victory came against lefty Jonathan Lester, who lasted 4 1/3 innings, his shortest outing since he came off the disabled list on Sept. 1. Lester did not strike out a batter and was charged with eight hits.
"Physically, it's September, you're going to have ups and downs," Lester said. "I feel fine. There's no lingering effects from anything. There's nothing physically wrong."
The loss snapped the Cubs' winning streak at seven games. With Milwaukee losing in Pittsburgh, Chicago has a 3 1/2-game lead in the National League Central over the Brewers, who they will face next, starting Thursday. The focus will switch to securing a postseason berth and not Maddon, who has been feted upon his return to where he managed for nine seasons.
"Moving it forward, you've got to beat them straight up sometimes, and that's what we're going to have to do," Maddon said.
Souza's homer ended an 0-for-23 slump after he connected with one out in the first. He was ahead 3-0 in the count against Lester, took a strike, then fouled a pitch off before he launched the next pitch 422 feet to left-center. He's the eighth different Rays player in franchise history to hit 30 homers in a single season.
Snell, who threw five scoreless innings July 5 at Wrigley Field against the Cubs, limited them to two hits -- both singles -- and struck out four over seven scoreless innings this time.
"Blake was outstanding," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "Really, really threw the ball well. Good environment for him to pitch in. Hopefully that's something that he can build off of. Look forward to many seasons pitching in that type of environment. Because it was loud and especially after last night, a tight ballgame. He needed to come perform well against a very good team. And he did."
Snell fought to pitch late into games for most of the first half of the season, but has now seemingly settled into a groove in which he is more efficient. When asked about the difference, Snell pointed to strike throwing. Of the 100 pitches he threw, 62 were for strikes.
"I believe in all my pitches, and I'm throwing them where I want to throw them, and there's a lot of conviction there," Snell said.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
South of the border: The Rays came into the game an AL-worst 17-28 against lefties this season. They didn't seem to have a problem in the second. Tampa Bay had runners at first and second with one out when Brad Miller hit an RBI single under first baseman Anthony Rizzo's glove, and Peter Bourjos followed with a perfectly executed squeeze play, which scored another run. Kevin Kiermaier added an RBI single for a 4-0 lead. Lester needed 31 pitches to get through the inning.
"It was perfectly done," Maddon said of the play, which he learned from former Cubs manager and Rays coach Don Zimmer. "We were ready for it. The bunt was so perfect. That's 'Zim' right there. Everything was right, everybody was in place. We knew it was coming, but you can't stop it sometimes."
Running game: Lester's problems throwing to the bases contributed to more Rays runs in the fifth. Souza walked with one out and then stole second as Rizzo bobbled Lester's throw and couldn't get the ball to second in time. Souza then swiped third. Lester did throw to Kristopher Bryant, but the third baseman had to come in for the ball and couldn't get back to the bag in time. Evan Longoria was hit by a pitch and Logan Morrison walked to load the bases, and Ramos hit a two-run single for a 6-0 lead. Morrison scored on a passed ball charged to catcher Willson Contreras.
"We gotta get back to doing that a little more often than maybe once every so often." -- Cash, on the Rays' offense breaking loose to score some runs Wednesday night
RAYS MAKE ROSTER MOVE
The Rays outrighted infielder Danny Espinosa following the game to make room on the 40-man roster for left-hander Xavier Cedeno, who will be activated prior to the coming Baltimore series.
Cubs:Jacob Arrieta returns to the rotation on Thursday to open a four-game series against the second-place Brewers. Arrieta has not started since Sept. 4, when he had to leave that game with a right hamstring strain. He'll be limited to 75-80 pitches. First pitch will be 7:10 p.m. CT from Miller Park.
Rays:Matt Andriese (5-3, 4.44) gets the nod Thursday when the Rays begin a four-game series with the Orioles in a 7:05 p.m. ET contest at Orioles Park at Camden Yards. He is 1-3 with a 7.50 ERA in six career appearances (three starts) against the Orioles. He hasn't faced the Orioles this season.
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