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Rays alone in second WC spot after comeback

@juanctoribio
September 23, 2019

ST. PETERSBURG -- It wasn’t looking good for the Rays. The Red Sox had jumped out to an early four-run lead and, through three innings, the offense was unable to record a hit against Boston starter Jhoulys Chacín. The early deficit appeared to take some of the energy out of

ST. PETERSBURG -- It wasn’t looking good for the Rays. The Red Sox had jumped out to an early four-run lead and, through three innings, the offense was unable to record a hit against Boston starter Jhoulys Chacín.

The early deficit appeared to take some of the energy out of the building, but as they’ve done multiple times during their run at the postseason, the Rays bounced back to score six runs in the fourth behind three long and loud home runs en route to a 7-4 win over the Red Sox on Monday at Tropicana Field.

Box score

“Big hit after big hit,” said Rays manager Kevin Cash. “That was awesome. That was maybe the most exciting inning of the year.”

With the win, the Rays take a half-game lead over the Indians (who were off on Monday) for the second AL Wild Card spot with five games left in the regular season. The Rays are now 1 1/2 games behind the A’s (who were also off) for the top spot.

Blake Snell struggled with his command in his second start back from the injured list and needed 52 pitches to get through just 1 2/3 innings of work. Snell allowed one run, but the Red Sox offense was able to tack on one run off Peter Fairbanks and two off Austin Pruitt to jump out to that four-run lead heading into the bottom of the fourth.

In the bottom half of the frame Austin Meadows singled, which marked the first hit of the night for Tampa Bay. The hit seemed to break the seal for the Rays’ offense. Travis d'Arnaud followed Meadows with a base hit to set up a two-on, one-out situation for Ji-Man Choi, who has been one of the hottest hitters in the Rays lineup over the last 10 games.

Choi didn’t disappoint in the big spot, launching a three-run home run off Chacín to cut the deficit to one. The home run served as a momentum shift for the Rays.

“I thought my homer changed the momentum of the game,” Choi said, through translator Ha Ram (Sam) Jeong. “I came back in the dugout and I told guys to never give up in the game.”

But the Rays’ offense didn’t stop there. Brandon Lowe, who returned to the Rays lineup on Sunday, had the loudest dinger of the night as he crushed a 441-foot home run off Chacín to even the score at four. Lowe’s home run had an exit velocity of 110 mph.

“That felt good,” Lowe said. “I definitely missed the feeling of that, so I’m glad to be back.”

Just two batters later, Willy Adames turned on an 88 mph fastball from Bobby Poyner to cap off the six-run inning with a two-run home run, giving the Rays a two-run lead. With 20 home runs this season, Adames set a new franchise record for home runs hit by a shortstop in a single season. He also became the youngest Rays player to hit 20 home runs in a season since 23-year old Evan Longoria hit 33 in 2009.

“That means a lot,” Adames said. “I’m happy how everything has turned out. It makes me happy that I’m helping the team win. That’s the most important thing. If we win, I’m happy, and even more if I help the team win.”

The Rays got an insurance run in the sixth inning on an Avisaíl García RBI double, and that’s all they needed as Nick Anderson, Diego Castillo, Emilio Pagán and Colin Poche shut the door over the last three innings against the Boston offense.

Rays players -- most of them without the experience of a close postseason race -- have talked about the importance of playing their best down the stretch. They continued to be resilient with Monday’s series-clinching win over the Red Sox.

“I just feel like we’re a really good baseball team right now,” Lowe said. “We’re dangerous one through however many guys, including the bench. It’s just, everybody has faith in the guy before him and the guy after him to get the job done and it’s a dangerous team to play right now.”

With only five games left in the regular season and their slight lead in the Wild Card race, the Rays will control their own destiny as they host the Yankees for a two-game series starting Tuesday before traveling to Toronto for a three-game set to finish the season.

“They have a good team,” said Red Sox manager Alex Cora. “They have New York for two days, and I don’t know where they go after that but it seems like they’re getting healthy at the right time, too. [Tyler] Glasnow, Snell, and Charlie [Morton] is throwing the ball well. It’s a complete team. They have a good bullpen and obviously they’ve been playing solid the whole time.”

Juan Toribio covers the Rays for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @juanctoribio.