Rays erupt in 11th for 11th straight win

May 24th, 2021

After battling down to their final out in a comeback win Sunday, the Rays needed another late offensive push on Monday afternoon to extend their MLB-best win streak to 11 games.

A pair of blown leads gave way to Tampa Bay’s seven-run eruption in the 11th inning of a 14-8 victory over the Blue Jays at TD Ballpark in Dunedin, Fla.

“Everybody has to play a role when you score that many runs,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “But it was a big back-and-forth game.”

With the win, the Rays took a half-game lead on the Red Sox and moved into sole possession of first in the American League East for the first time since April 3.

The Rays built a five-run lead before the Blue Jays even took a swing, thanks in part to a Joey Wendle grand slam, but Toronto responded with five big swings over the course of the game to stay in it. The most notable ones were game-tying, two-run blasts by Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (eighth inning) and Marcus Semien (10th) off Ryan Thompson and Jeffrey Springs, respectively.

From the second inning through the ninth, Tampa Bay’s bats fell silent. The club managed just five baserunners through those innings, and never more than one at a time. Though the Rays never trailed, their win streak was in doubt throughout the day.

Amid the uncertainty, Wendle kept his emotions geared toward one thought.

“Just keep competing, keep competing,” he said. “Fun day to hit. I mean, the ball was blowing out today. Seemed like everything was kind of getting down or through or up or out, so a lot of credit to our pitchers. 

“That was a tough day to be out there on the mound. Good to get that one there at the end and kind of put a nail into it.”

By “that one,” Wendle was alluding to the Rays’ mammoth 11th inning, in which they collected two walks, three singles, a double and a triple. The resulting seven runs set a franchise record for their highest-scoring extra inning.

Of all the action in that frame, no hit was bigger than the opposite-way single by Francisco Mejía. He entered the game as a defensive replacement in the previous inning, and then he delivered with the bases loaded in his lone at-bat.

“I was definitely ready,” Mejía said through a translator. “I’d been thinking about that kind of situation early on in the game. … Whether you get told [you’re going in] or not, we’re always ready in that dugout to play at any moment.”

That type of mindset is important in tight games, which is what the Rays and Blue Jays are accustomed to. As close as the series finale was, it actually snapped a 12-game stretch of matchups decided by two or fewer runs between these teams.

Toronto’s late comebacks on Monday meant that Rays starter Ryan Yarbrough, who worked a quality start (six innings, three earned runs), walked away with a no-decision to prolong his extensive stretch of futility in the win column. The left-hander is now 0-10 over his past 23 starts, which is the longest regular-season winless streak for a traditional starter in franchise history.

A different bit of franchise history is at stake for the Rays now, too: On Tuesday, they’ll have a chance to match their longest win streak when they host the Royals at 7:10 p.m. ET.

Thanks to Monday’s timing as a day game, and the fact that Dunedin is about 22 miles from Tropicana Field, the Rays can steal a bit of extra rest before facing Kansas City. Cash noted that his bullpen was “exhausted,” so this unconventional scheduling should help a bit.

“Certainly unique, but it’s nice,” Cash said. “[Hitting coach Chad Mottola] always says, ‘Happy flight.’ A lot of guys were saying, ‘Let’s find a way to have a happy drive.’ And they’ll have a happy drive back to St. Pete today.”