10-0! Rays claim best start in MLB's Wild Card Era

Different formula, same result for TB as pitching leads way, Lowe homers late in 1-0 win

April 11th, 2023

ST. PETERSBURG -- is Rays manager Kevin Cash’s preferred choice out of the bullpen in the ninth inning of a tight game. But high-leverage work has been hard to find lately, considering Tampa Bay won each of the first nine games of the season by at least four runs.

In fact, Fairbanks had only pitched twice before taking the mound with a one-run lead in the ninth against the Red Sox on Monday night. So his fellow relievers had been giving him a hard time, left-hander said, teasing him for being “on vacation” and going so far as to call him Pete “Rarebanks.”

But the Rays needed big outs from Poche and Fairbanks’ first save to secure their franchise-record third straight shutout, and they needed an eighth-inning home run from to beat the Red Sox, 1-0, at Tropicana Field for their 10th consecutive win to start the season.

“That was definitely a little bit of a change,” Lowe said. “We're not going to win every game 10-0. We're going to play 1-0 games and stuff like that, so it was good to get this out of the way and good to play these games again.”

The Rays surpassed the 2003 Royals (9-0) to claim the longest season-opening winning streak in MLB’s Wild Card Era and became the seventh AL/NL team in baseball’s Modern Era (since 1901) to begin a season with at least 10 consecutive wins. The rest of the exclusive club includes the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers, ‘62 Pirates, ‘66 Indians, ‘81 Athletics, ‘82 Braves and ‘87 Brewers, with the last two clubs sharing the record with 13 straight victories to begin the year.

Even after finally playing a close game, the Rays claim the fifth-highest run differential through the first 10 games of a season in MLB history, at plus-58, and the highest mark in the Modern Era.

Additionally, Tampa Bay has now strung together the third-longest winning streak overall in franchise history, behind its 12-game run from June 9-22, 2004, and an 11-game streak from May 13-24, 2021.

“It's not gotten lost on anybody, but it's not adding any pressure on anybody,” said Lowe, who has homered in three consecutive games. “We've done this before, and it's pretty cool to do it when we're doing it and how we're doing it.”

How they did it Monday was a little different. The Rays had scored at least three runs against every starting pitcher they’d faced this season, but Red Sox right-hander Nick Pivetta shut them out for five innings.

The Rays answered with dominant pitching of their own, however, going from opener Jalen Beeks (two innings) to bulk-innings lefty Josh Fleming, who bounced back from a rough season debut in Washington by breezing through four innings with five strikeouts and just one ground-ball single allowed. Lefty Garrett Cleavinger handled the seventh, then Poche got himself into and out of trouble in a dramatic eighth.

Poche issued two walks and gave up a single to Bobby Dalbec, bringing up All-Star slugger Rafael Devers with the bases loaded and two outs. Poche started off Devers with a slider then fired three straight fastballs, and Devers took the last one for strike three before Poche pumped his fists and roared off the mound.

“They were probably the best [pitches] of his night, I would say,” Fairbanks said. “To come back and do that in that situation -- in the first real 0-0 [nail-biting] situation of the year -- it was impressive to see and it was a lot of fun to watch him do that.”

“Definitely some relief there,” Poche added.

The Rays could fully exhale thanks to Lowe, who battled reliever Chris Martin for 10 pitches in what Lowe called “definitely one of the best at-bats I think I’ve ever had.” He swung and missed at the first pitch then took three balls and fouled off five pitches, including one into a painful spot between two protective guards on his right foot, before unloading on a high fastball and launching it a Statcast-projected 404 feet to right-center field.

“This was the first night where it was kind of quiet offensively, so I kind of felt like, at any given moment, somebody could knock one out of the ballpark,” Cash said. “Probably the right guy was Brandon.”

Fairbanks retired the Red Sox in order in the ninth to earn the save, a rare ending to an increasingly common Rays win.

“He looked pretty damn good out there today,” Poche said, smiling. “If he needs a few days off to look like that, then we'll take it.”