'Electric' McClanahan, Rays quiet Orioles in battle of AL's best

May 9th, 2023

BALTIMORE -- In the fourth inning Monday night, darted off the mound to field a bunt off the bat of Jorge Mateo, lost his footing, then fell on his backside as he reached for the ball.

“It was just kind of that instant of shock, like, 'Oh my God, am I OK?' But no, I was fine,” McClanahan said. “[I] got up. I'm like, 'Listen, I'm not coming out of the game for this.’”

It was perhaps the only time so far this season Tampa Bay’s ace has slipped.

McClanahan improved to 7-0 with a 1.76 ERA after battling through six innings and leading the Rays to a 3-0 victory over the Orioles at Camden Yards in the first meeting of the season between the American League East rivals who own two of the Majors’ top three records.

“That's a fun team to play. You always want to be the best, but you've got to play the best,” said McClanahan, the Majors’ first seven-game winner this year. “So for us to come out here and execute the way we did tonight and get that first win of the series was huge for us.”

Thirty-six games into the season, Tampa Bay has the same number of shutouts (seven, most in the Majors) as total losses. The Rays are only the sixth team since 1900 to win 29 of their first 36 decisions, joining the 1984 Tigers (31-5), 1902 Pirates (30-6), 1912 Giants (29-7) and the 1928 and ‘39 Yankees (both 29-7).

McClanahan walked a career-high-tying four batters, put a runner in scoring position in three innings and needed a career-high 102 pitches to get through his outing. But he permitted only four hits, struck out seven and got himself out of every jam he encountered.

“When he needed to make pitches, he did,” manager Kevin Cash said. “We knew coming in that's a tough offense over there. They've swung the bat very, very well. Shane was probably the right guy to have.”

Cash praised McClanahan’s ability to take a deep breath and reset himself to keep innings under control, a point of pride for the 26-year-old. McClanahan said he wasn’t confident that “the Shane last year, the Shane the year before would have managed to figure it out and get over it” when he pitched himself into tough spots.

What’s led to that improvement? McClanahan credited Rays pitching coach Kyle Snyder and head of mental performance Justin Su’a for his continuing development as a person, not just a pitcher.

“I feel like I've taken a lot of steps in these last couple years, trying to be a leader on the team, trying to be that guy on the mound that will figure it out no matter what,” McClanahan said. “It's one of those things where it's kind of sink or swim, and I don't want to sink. I'm not really content with being average, and it's just how I've always been.”

The Rays have won each of McClanahan’s first eight starts, and the left-hander on Monday became only the 16th pitcher in AL/NL history to throw at least five innings while allowing two or fewer runs in each of his first eight outings of the season. Additionally, McClanahan joined Matt Moore (8-0 in 2013) and Charlie Morton (8-0 in '19) as the only Tampa Bay starters to win each of their first seven decisions in a season.

“Pretty good company,” McClanahan said, grinning.

McClanahan didn’t need much run support, but he got it early on from outfielder . Facing Baltimore starter Kyle Gibson to lead off the second inning, Lowe unloaded on a first-pitch sinker over the plate and crushed it a Statcast-projected 393 feet to right-center field for his seventh home run of the season. At 113.3 mph, it was the hardest-hit ball of Lowe’s young career.

“[I'm] just relaxed and putting good swings on pitches that I need to hit out of the park, and I'm doing it,” Lowe said. “Feeling good right now.”

The Rays tacked on an insurance run in the seventh, when singled off Gibson and scored on Wander Franco’s sacrifice fly against reliever Bryan Baker. Raley launched his eighth homer of the season to right-center field off Keegan Akin in the ninth to further pad Tampa Bay’s lead.

“I think every time we come to the ballpark and we know [McClanahan is] on the mound, that we have a really good chance of winning,” Raley said. “I mean, we feel that way all the time, but it's just special with him. He's electric.”