ST. PETERSBURG -- There was a fleeting moment Wednesday night when the Rays had a five-run lead and manager Kevin Cash thought they might be able to pull away with another comfortable victory.
“Shame on me for thinking that,” Cash said, “because Boston is pretty good.”
In the end, the Rays withstood a Red Sox rally and rode their relentless lineup to the brink of Major League history with a 9-7 victory on Wednesday night, their 12th consecutive win to begin the season.
Tampa Bay has tied the longest overall winning streak in franchise history, matching the Devil Rays’ 12-game run from June 9-22, 2004. Only the 1982 Braves and ‘87 Brewers can claim longer season-opening winning streaks in MLB’s modern era, and the Rays can pull even with their 13-0 starts with a win in Thursday’s series finale at Tropicana Field.
“When we're doing something that is a franchise record, it’s pretty meaningful, impactful,” Cash said. “So the guys should be really proud of that.”
More than anything, the Rays are proud of the way they’ve put this streak together, with just about everyone playing a part. That was the case again on Wednesday, as five different hitters drove in runs and five relievers made their way to the mound after top prospect Taj Bradley’s five-inning MLB debut.
Franco hit three doubles, stole a base, scored a pair of runs and drove in two to continue his torrid start to the season. Arozarena ripped a three-run homer in the first inning to get things started and gave the Rays’ high-leverage arms some breathing room with an eighth-inning sacrifice fly to cap the scoring.
“We’re swinging the bats well,” Cash said. “Wander’s on fire right now. … You'll take them however you can get them, [like] Randy coming up with the sac fly. It's a very typical Rays-Red Sox game, where it's kind of some back-and-forth.”
It was also a typical game for these Rays, who are rarely falling behind and often slugging their way past opponents. They’ve only trailed at the end of five of their first 108 innings this season, and their plus-65 run differential is the third-best in MLB history through the first 12 games of a season.
Arozarena’s first-inning blast was Tampa Bay’s 30th home run of the season, the third-most through 12 games in MLB history behind the 2019 Mariners (32) and '00 Cardinals (31).
That staked Bradley to an early lead in his Major League debut, just as Cash wanted for the 22-year-old right-hander. The Red Sox responded with a run in the fourth, but the Rays answered right back.
The bottom of Tampa Bay’s lineup engineered a rally, as Taylor Walls, Christian Bethancourt and Vidal Bruján loaded the bases, and the top of the order finished it. Yandy Díaz lofted a sacrifice fly to deep center field, and Franco continued his torrid start with a two-run double to left-center field.
“I feel good, and I feel comfortable for being able to do the job -- and not just for me, but everyone else is doing the job as well,” Franco said through interpreter Manny Navarro. “We're very proud of that.”
The two clubs traded a pair of runs in the fifth, but Boston wouldn’t go down quietly. Justin Turner doubled off Jalen Beeks and scored on a pair of groundouts in the sixth, then a seventh-inning misplay in right-center field between Manuel Margot and Harold Ramírez gave the Red Sox an extra out in the seventh. Boston took advantage, as Rafael Devers ripped a three-run homer to left off reliever Colin Poche and cut Tampa Bay’s lead to one run.
For the second time in three days, the Rays -- who won 10 of their first 11 games by at least four runs -- were presented with a rare close affair. But their top relievers and star hitters delivered again in the clutch.
“I think we're putting everything together,” Bethancourt said. “We're trying our best to be the best version of ourselves. We're not being selfish. We're just keeping the line going offensively. Pitching-wise, they're doing an outstanding job, and hopefully we can continue and we can get where we want to be, which is the World Series.”