Rays 1 win from LCS: 'That’s what we plan on'

'You just never know who’s going to show up and be the hero'

October 8th, 2020

Coming into the American League Division Series, most of the questions, understandably so, were about how the Rays’ pitching staff was going to neutralize a red-hot Yankees attack. But over the past two games of the ALDS, it’s been the Tampa Bay Bombers that have swung the series in the Rays’ favor.   

After hitting four home runs in Tuesday’s win, the Rays hit three more on Wednesday as the team took a 2-1 series lead with a dominant Game 3 win, 8-4, over the Yankees at Petco Park. Tampa Bay became the first team to score seven or more runs and hit three homers or more in back-to-back postseason games against New York, and they’ve used their entire roster to get there.

“This is Rays baseball at its finest,” said center fielder . “We sit here and talk about never depending on one person each and every night. We have our guys, don’t get me wrong, but you just never know who’s going to be the hero and who’s going to step up with the big strikeout, the big hit, the big defensive play, and we showed that tonight.”

In the history of best-of-five postseason series, teams with a 2-1 lead have gone on to win the series 62 of 87 times (71 percent). However, last season, two of the three teams that fell behind 2-1 in the Division Series -- the Nationals (vs. Dodgers) and Cardinals (vs. Braves) -- came back to win.

While a lot of the recent production has come from the bat of -- and that continued with his solo shot in the fifth inning -- most of the damage on Wednesday came from the bottom of the order. And that’s a great sign for Tampa Bay.

Kiermaier, who hit in the eight-spot, delivered the first big blow on Wednesday. The longest-tenured member of the Rays crushed a go-ahead three-run home run off Masahiro Tanaka in the fourth inning to give Tampa Bay a 4-1 lead. That seemed to relax the rest of the dugout and the Rays were able to add on later in the game.

“KK has done it for a long time,” said Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “I know we had a quiet offensive year, but similar to [Mike] Zunino, you flush that and you get ready to play and we know we’re a better team when everybody is contributing.”

, who got the start for Zunino and batted ninth, was also a big contributor. During the regular season, Perez hit a walk-off single against the Yankees, but his two hits on Wednesday were the two biggest of his career.

Perez got the scoring started with an RBI single in the second inning. He followed that up with a two-run opposite-field blast off Chad Green to give the Rays a commanding five-run lead.

“I think we are doing a really good job from one through nine,” Perez said. “It’s not just one person and it means a lot to do my part like I did tonight. It meant a lot to me and thankfully we got the win.”

With Kiermaier and Perez both having three RBIs on Wednesday, the Rays became the first team in MLB postseason history to have its starting No. 8 and No. 9 hitters both have at least three RBIs in the same game. The Rays have now hit 12 home runs this postseason, the most in club history through five postseason games.

“That’s what makes us good, that we have so many guys that can help us win games on both sides of the ball,” Cash said. “Depth is something that everybody has, but we have talented depth and that has gotten us here in a big way.”

That depth was on full display on Wednesday and has been there throughout the postseason, making the Rays that much more dangerous. With Perez and Kiermaier's latest homers, the Rays now have eight different players with a home run. Three of the players with a home run in the postseason -- Manuel Margot, Hunter Renfroe and Zunino -- weren’t in the Rays’ starting lineup on Wednesday. The list of eight different players also doesn’t include Brandon Lowe, who led the team with 14 during the regular season. The Rays figure their All-Star will get it going sooner rather than later.

“One through nine, you just never know who’s going to show up and be the hero any given day,” Kiermaier said.

En route to a 40-win campaign, the Rays rode the pitching staff, and that will continue to be the key moving forward. Charlie Morton and the bullpen limited the Yankees to four runs, but it was the bats that carried the day. If the Rays continue to get the same level of offensive support that’s been on display thus far, Tampa Bay could be celebrating its first trip to the ALCS since 2008 and their 11th win against New York this season.

“I think we’re gonna take that demeanor that if we show up and play the way that we know we’re capable of, we can be celebrating this time tomorrow,” Kiermaier said. “That’s what we plan on doing.”