Several Rays step up to bring skid to a halt

July 4th, 2021

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The Rays reported to Sahlen Field on Sunday morning on the wrong end of several streaks. They hadn’t held a lead at the end of an inning in a week. The last time they shook hands to celebrate a win was eight days ago. Their last win on the road was June 14.

Someone had to step up and stop the skid. Reliever said the Rays talked about it Saturday night and again before Sunday’s series finale: Who was it going to be?

“The good thing about it is we have a lot of talent in this room,” McHugh said. “And it could be any number of guys on any given day.”

Sure enough, a number of players came through to end all those unpleasant streaks in the Rays’ 5-1 win over the Blue Jays.

• Box score

Left-hander set the tone with a strong start against a hot Toronto lineup. hit his second big league homer. crushed three doubles and drove in two runs. And McHugh delivered nine critical outs out of the bullpen.

Just like that, the Rays’ losing streak ended at five games, their road losing streak ended at 10 games and their tough trip through Washington and Buffalo ended on a high note. Let’s look at how four players came through with particularly key contributions to make it happen.

Ryan Yarbrough
The Rays got a reminder of the Blue Jays’ offensive firepower when Toronto produced 17 runs in the first two games of the weekend series. Yarbrough was charged with shutting the Jays down, a tall order for the lefty against a lineup loaded with right-handed threats.

But Yarbrough limited the Blue Jays to only four hits while striking out five over five innings. His only mistake came in the second inning, when Randal Grichuk hit a 1-0 changeup out to left field for a solo homer. Otherwise, Yarbrough masterfully navigated his way through the start.

After an ugly outing against the Red Sox, Yarbrough has put together two strong performances in a row. The key for him has been the same both times.

“We're just really trying to increase the tempo, stay aggressive,” Yarbrough said. “I feel like that's been the biggest thing after that really bad outing against the Red Sox, when everything just slowed down so much, overthinking things. So it was just a matter of just kind of getting on the mound, staying aggressive and keeping the tempo up."

Wander Franco
It looked like Yarbrough’s effort might go to waste, however, as the Rays were shut down by left-hander Robbie Ray for five innings. They whiffed on a perfect scoring opportunity in the second inning, when Mike Zunino, Francisco Mejía and Taylor Walls went down swinging to strand runners on second and third.

But the lineup came to life in the sixth inning. Mostly kept quiet since his eventful Major League debut, Franco swatted a low slider from Ray off the top of the wall in right-center field for a game-tying homer.

“Simply, I was just looking for a pitch to hit,” Franco said through interpreter Manny Navarro. “Obviously it came out and resulted as a home run, but I was just looking for something hard to hit and make hard contact.”

Franco also doubled in his third multihit game. He immediately atoned for a second-inning error by making a slick spinning play and a strong throw to get the final out of the inning.

“Like we've all continued to say, there's no concern there. We know he's a good player,” manager Kevin Cash said. “Sometimes you've just got to let it work itself out. Confident that Wander will be just fine.”

Austin Meadows
After Franco’s home run, Tampa Bay struck quickly to take the lead, as Yandy Díaz and Meadows hit back-to-back doubles to right field off Ray. That marked the first time since the seventh inning on June 27 that the Rays held a lead at the end of an inning, snapping a streak of 44 consecutive frames.

Meadows tacked on another run in the ninth with a hard-hit RBI double to right. That gave Meadows a team-leading 23 doubles and 56 RBIs on the year, and it began a three-run inning that gave Diego Castillo some breathing room.

“Meadows was pretty locked in today and picked us up in a big, big way with all of his hits -- definitely the one that kind of added on right there at the end of the game,” Cash said.

Collin McHugh
McHugh wasn’t named to the American League All-Star team on Sunday, but he earned an endorsement from Yarbrough after striking out six and facing the minimum over three dominant innings.

“He's been invaluable to us. He's been absolutely incredible,” Yarbrough said. “If he's not an All-Star, he's an All-Star to us for what he's done for this team.”

Over his last 15 appearances, McHugh has allowed just one run while striking out 45 batters in 28 1/3 innings. He’s been “such a bright spot for our team, for our bullpen,” Cash said, and it showed Sunday as he got ahead of hitters and wiped them out with sliders throughout three high-leverage innings.

As for that All-Star bid?

The All-Star break's on my mind, for sure,” McHugh said, smiling. “I'm pleased to count myself as potentially one of those [earning consideration], but yeah, the idea of having four days at home -- I'm not going to turn my nose up at that.”