ST. PETERSBURG -- Over the past three games, the Rays’ offense had struggled, scoring just eight runs and connecting on one home run over that span. Tampa Bay had been held to three runs or fewer in those three games, all losses.
With Blake Snell pitching just 3 1/3 innings and the offense being shut down through five, it looked like the Rays were headed for a fourth consecutive loss. But in the sixth inning, the Rays flipped the script, scoring five runs en route to a 9-4 win over the Angels at Tropicana Field.
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With the Yankees losing 10-2 to the White Sox, Tampa Bay took a half-game lead in the American League East.
“This was the best win of the season, easily,” Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier said. “I told the guys after the game that we’ve had nothing go our way the last three days and this first half of the game, where it seemed like every ball we hit hard was hit right at guys. We’ve been outplayed. We’ve been outpitched, outhit, and everyone else would agree, but it’s just baseball sometimes.”
Austin Meadows opened the sixth-inning rally with a leadoff double, and that’s when the Rays began to apply the pressure on the Angels’ bullpen. Tampa Bay batted around in the inning, recording six hits, only one for extra bases. Yandy Diaz, Avisail Garcia, Kiermaier and Tommy Pham all delivered RBI hits.
In the seventh inning, the Rays continued their offensive burst, scoring four more runs to give them some separation. Ji-Man Choi provided the exclamation point, blasting a two-run home run off Angels reliever Cody Allen.
“Yeah, we needed one,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “It didn’t start off good, but good to see the guys’ resiliency in coming back. ... It was nice to see the guys stay patient and finally get it going, ultimately once [Angels starter Andrew Heaney] got out of the ballgame.”
While the Rays tacked on the four runs in the seventh inning, the sixth was what sparked the Tampa Bay offense. Let’s take a play-by-play look at how that inning unfolded in the words of the players who contributed.
Meadows leads it off
With the Rays down 4-0, Heaney threw Meadows a 1-2 curveball that the outfielder sent down the right-field line to start the inning.
“With it being the sixth inning, you just do everything you can to get on base, whether it’s a single or anything you can do to get on base,” Meadows said. “We’re down four runs, so for me, I was trying everything I could to get on base, and I was able to get a double down the line.”
“Meadows got on for us to lead off the inning, and the rest followed,” Pham added. “We didn’t have nothing going on until that inning, and Meadows broke it open. One hit like that to lead off an inning could cause something like that to unravel.”
Diaz opens the scoring
With Meadows at second base, Angels manager Brad Ausmus replaced Heaney with right-hander Luis Garcia. Garcia fell behind Diaz and threw a 3-1 pitch that stayed in the zone, and Diaz drove in Meadows with a single.
“The mentality you get there is trying to advance the runner, but I didn’t want to waste a turn, and I wanted to drive the runner in, and thankfully it happened," Diaz said. "I wasn’t necessarily looking for a pitch, but any pitch that’s in the zone I’m going to swing, and I know when I’m ahead in the count I try to hit the ball hard.”
Choi comes through off the bench
With the right-handed Garcia on the mound, Cash opted to pinch hit for Willy Adames with the left-handed Choi. Choi kept the rally going with a single on a 2-1 fastball.
“It was just important that my teammates were able to turn things around and bring a win back to the team,” Choi said, through translator Ha Ram (Sam) Jeong. “I wasn’t really thinking when I was at the plate, I was just trying to get a hit for the team.”
Kiermaier keeps the rally alive
After Garcia struck out Brandon Lowe and got Joey Wendle to fly out to right field, it was up to Kiermaier to keep the rally going for the Rays. With the team down 4-1, Kiermaier sent an 0-2 splitter to right, driving in Diaz to make it 4-2.
“I thought he was going to throw a split, and I think he would agree that he would’ve liked to bury it and try to get me to chase,” Kiermaier said. “They tried doing that last night, and I did certain times, but I definitely had a feeling that he was going to throw a split right there. You know, 0-2 right there, you want to try and bury it, but he left it up thankfully, and I got enough barrel on it and hit it in the right spot to get it through.”
Garcia makes it a brand new ballgame
After Guillermo Heredia got hit by a pitch on the left hand to load the bases, it was up to Garcia to come up with the big hit. The right fielder delivered with a two-run single off reliever Ty Buttrey on a 1-0 pitch to even the score at 4.
“I was just trying to stay focused, 100 percent,” Garcia said. “It was a big at-bat in the game where we had a chance to tie the game, and thank God we were able to tie the game there. I was just trying to not do too much. I was looking for a pitch in the strike zone. In that situation, you can’t try to do too much and try and hit a grand slam or something like that because we could tie the game with a base hit, and thankfully, that’s what happened.”
Pham for the lead
With the score tied at 4, Pham took advantage of a 3-1 fastball from Buttrey, giving the Rays the 5-4 lead with an RBI single to right field.
“They’ve been pitching me tough,” Pham said. “You saw that first pitch, you have a guy that’s throwing 99, and first pitch he throws a breaking ball. [Then] a fastball. He falls behind 2-0, and he throws me another breaking ball. I really was in between because this is someone that throws super hard, and you know, he’s pitching me backward and he’s not challenging me. I’m just so happy that I managed to keep the inning going right there with the hit. ...
“It was huge. This might be our best win all year.”
Juan Toribio covers the Rays for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @juanctoribio.