'The boys are raking': Rays make slugfest out of Blue Jays' mistakes
ST. PETERSURG -- Blue Jays starter Chris Bassitt carried the Majors’ longest active scoreless streak into Monday’s series opener at Tropicana Field. He had been spectacular in his first three starts this month, spinning a pair of seven-inning gems and a May 12 shutout against the Braves before tossing a scoreless first inning against the Rays to extend his run of zeros to 28 consecutive frames.
The Rays knew they would need to capitalize on whatever opportunities they had against the Toronto right-hander, and they knew they needed to score early to slow his momentum. They did both, making the most of a few mistakes by the Blue Jays and pounding three home runs in a 6-4 win.
“He’s really good and he's been on a tremendous run, shutting people down,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “So to be able to get some runs early certainly benefited us.”
The Rays also benefited by taking advantage of seemingly every mistake Bassitt made on the mound, as well as every error the Blue Jays committed in the field.
Randy Arozarena led off the second inning by trying to leg out a double, testing the arm of longtime Tampa Bay center fielder Kevin Kiermaier in his first regular-season game as a visitor at The Trop. Arozarena was initially ruled out, but the call was reversed after the Rays challenged it -- and Arozarena did in his own way, too.
“It was a really good throw by KK, but I knew 100% that I was safe,” Arozarena said through interpreter Manny Navarro, noting that he told Kiermaier: “I was safe, but he made a good throw.”
With two outs, Christian Bethancourt hit a ground ball up the middle and wound up safe at first when first baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr. couldn’t corral Whit Merrifield’s throw. Arozarena scored the game’s first run on the play, then Jose Siri -- who wouldn’t have come to the plate in the third if not for the error -- made Toronto pay even further.
Siri unloaded on a full-count fastball from Bassitt, flicked his bat out of his hand as a continuation of his backswing, then slowly walked out of the batter’s box as the ball flew a Statcast-projected 417 feet out to center field and put the Rays ahead, 3-0.
“Sometimes that stuff just comes out naturally, especially if you know that you hit it well,” Siri said through Navarro. “We take advantage of those little mistakes that the other teams make, just like other teams would if we make that same mistake.”
They kept doing it in the third inning. Bassitt issued a leadoff walk to Yandy Díaz, who moved to second on another error by Guerrero. That misplay allowed Isaac Paredes to come to the plate with two outs, and he delivered an RBI single up the middle to make it a 4-0 game.
“I think they were hunting my heater a lot tonight, and I didn’t have my offspeed at all,” said Bassitt, who had put together a 1.71 ERA with only two homers allowed over his previous eight starts. “There are adjustments to be made, but credit to them. They’re a really good team.”
With the win, the Rays improved to 35-14 overall and 22-4 at home. They are the ninth club since 1901 to win 22 of their first 26 home games, and the first since the 1979 Montreal Expos. Tampa Bay also matched the best 26-game home start by any team since 1901.
A big part of the team’s success has been the lineup’s unexpected power, which showed up again against Toronto. With fans chanting “RAN-DY!” as he led off the sixth inning against Bassitt, Arozarena blasted a 1-0 slider out to right field for his 11th home run of the season.
“God had the perfect timing on that one, because I think it was planned out,” Arozarena said through Navarro. “I heard them yelling, and then going up to the plate, I told Isaac Paredes that he's going to throw me a breaking ball.”
Luke Raley added another long ball to the list in the seventh against Bassitt, pulling his ninth homer out to right field. That capped the Rays’ MLB-leading 27th multihomer performance and their 16th game with at least three homers. The offensive outing also brought their season total to 94 homers after 49 games, a mark Tampa Bay didn’t reach until its 103rd game (on Aug. 2) last year.
“The boys are raking right now,” said left-hander Josh Fleming, who picked up the win after permitting only two runs over a season-high six innings following opener Trevor Kelley. “It's fun to watch.”