ST. PETERSBURG -- With the number of remaining games dwindling, the Rays no longer have the luxury of waiting for home runs to start flying out of the park. The time has come to create runs by any means necessary, and the Rays did just that in an 8-1 win over the Cubs on Wednesday at Tropicana Field.
Steven Souza Jr. hit his 30th homer in the first inning, but Souza and the Rays generated runs with baserunning, timely singles and a perfectly executed bunt to hammer home the victory.
"We've been quiet lately, but we were able to string together some big innings, some rallies," manager Kevin Cash said. "That was good to see. We have to get back to doing that a little more often rather than maybe once every so often."
Peter Bourjos capitalized on a runners-on-the-corners opportunity in the third inning, bunting to the first-base side of the mound and offering no chance for Anthony Rizzo to throw any runners out. Souza put pressure on pitcher Jonathan Lester in the fifth inning, stealing two bases by using his knowledge of Lester's reluctance to pick runners off in order to take massive leads.
That pair of thefts by Souza jump-started a three-run inning that included a two-run single by Wilson Ramos and a run scored on a wild pitch, which added another unique entry to Tampa Bay's methods of scoring Wednesday.
"We have a pretty athletic team, so we're capable of doing things like that," Souza said. "Today was a night where we could take advantage of it, and we did."
The Rays hope Wednesday's showing by Souza and the offense can provide a spark for the final 10 games. Souza became the first player in franchise history to put together a season of 30 homers and 15 stolen bases. The home run also snapped a personal 0-for-23 drought.
"Pretty excited for Steven Souza, I know he's had a rough patch here the last homestand, and probably the last road trip," Cash said. "Good to see him get the home run and hopefully now he can take off a little bit these next 10 ballgames … and really have a strong finish to a season that has [had] a lot of good come from it."
Souza had never hit more than 17 homers in a year or driven in more than 49 runs.
"To hit 30 homers in a season, I'm just super thankful," Souza said. "Thank God for just allowing me to play a full, healthy season, and everybody behind me that really hit all year. It's just an awesome feeling. … I never in my wildest dreams thought I would do that."
The Rays have a wild dream of their own: finding a way to swipe the second American League Wild Card spot, which they are four games back from after Minnesota lost on Wednesday. The Rays entered play Wednesday with a 0.7 percent chance of reaching the postseason, according to FanGraphs. To somehow cut through the clutter of the Wild Card race to reach October, Tampa Bay has to play just about perfect baseball. On Wednesday, they were able to do so.
"It was a big win tonight," Souza said. "Every game is going to be big from here on out. Our pitchers have been doing a great job here, and so we've got to pick it up offensively, and we've been doing that.
"Hopefully we can go and do something special."