The Rays have been trying to drum up an offensive spark for a while now, and in one of the most unlikely scenarios, they finally did.
Facing Astros starter Cristian Javier, who hadn’t allowed a homer all season, Austin Meadows drilled a center-cut changeup to the seats for a three-run shot. That one swing snapped a 21 2/3 inning scoreless streak for Javier, and it produced more runs than the Rays had scored in any of their previous four games.
Meadows came around to score the decisive run two innings later in a 5-4 win at Tropicana Field on Sunday, preventing a sweep and closing out a bumpy homestand on a bright note. Tampa Bay went 4-6 in this go-round at The Trop, and all but one game was decided by two or fewer runs.
“Really nice job by the entire offense,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “I felt like we were putting pressure on. Wasn’t a ton of runs, but we’ll take anything the way it’s been going.”
The bar has been quite low for the Rays’ offense as of late -- the team entered Sunday with two or fewer runs scored in six of its previous seven games. Through a quiet four innings against Javier, Tampa Bay managed to advance a pair of runners to third base but no further.
Meadows’ home run came in the fifth to erase Houston’s 3-0 lead. Finally, the Rays’ bats showed signs of life.
“It was the spark that we needed,” Meadows said.
In the sixth, the Astros pulled ahead again before Kevin Kiermaier doubled to left, advanced to third on a wild pitch and scored on a close play at the plate. Then in the seventh, Manuel Margot's pinch-hit single drove in Meadows, giving the Rays their first lead of not only the game, but the series.
It’s worth noting that Meadows had reached base in the seventh on a hit-by-pitch (one of three for the Rays) that caught him on the hand. He was in noticeable pain but stayed in, and X-rays taken after the game came back negative. The outfielder said it’s just a bruise and that he’s happy the ball hit him “right on the meat.”
As Cash alluded to postgame, a five-run effort is still not quite where the Rays want to be offensively. But it’s a start -- one that they’ll happily take, along with a win.
Tampa Bay clawed for seven hits, two walks and three hit-by-pitches. They advanced baserunners on both of the Astros’ errors and scored on one of them. They came up with a pair of pinch-hits at a crucial time (Margot’s, as well as one from Yandy Díaz on 11 pitches in the at-bat before). The production wasn’t always pretty, and it only came in a three-inning burst, but it was enough.
“Good offenses take advantage of whatever’s presented on that given day,” Cash said. “And if it’s a walk, a hit-by-pitch or, you know, taking advantage of a defensive miscue, somehow, [you find] a way to capitalize on that and we did today. It buys us a little bit of time as a team offense to get the bats going.”
The Rays’ team batting average fell to .223 -- 23rd in Majors -- during the homestand. But Sunday was about taking the first step forward toward better days in box scores to come. The hope is that those better days can start as soon as the team lands in California for a seven-game West Coast trip that begins Monday.
“We’re not pleased with the way we performed here at home,” Cash said. “But we’ll definitely get on the flight feeling better after the win.”