ST. PETERSBURG -- Sitting in the dugout between turns on the mound on Thursday night, Jacob Faria heard the thunder roaring outside Tropicana Field. He knew something big would happen that inning, he said.Shortly after, Wilson Ramos brought the thunder indoors, cracking a two-run homer off Red Sox ace Chris
ST. PETERSBURG -- Sitting in the dugout between turns on the mound on Thursday night, Jacob Faria heard the thunder roaring outside Tropicana Field. He knew something big would happen that inning, he said.
Shortly after, Wilson Ramos brought the thunder indoors, cracking a two-run homer off Red Sox ace Chris Sale, leading his team to a 4-1 win in the series opener.
Ramos had tied the score two innings earlier with an RBI double, and he would throw out two runners on the basepaths.
Should the American League East-leading Red Sox listen closely, that sound they'll hear is the Rays storming into playoff contention, with Ramos among those leading the charge.
"He's starting to get in stride," Faria said. "This whole team's going to be really, really fun to watch coming up here."
Ramos' ability to hit with runners in scoring position was valuable for the Nationals in 2016, as he batted .333 over 135 at-bats, driving in 56 runs. He provided timely hitting for his new team on Thursday.
Ramos has just six hits for the Rays since coming off the disabled list June 24, but he's made the most of them, with nine RBIs, including eight in the last four games. That ability to hit in the clutch will be crucial for a Tampa Bay squad that is in the bottom 10 in the Majors batting with runners in scoring position (.245).
"Right now I feel a lot better at the plate," Ramos said. "I'm happy, because I'm getting my timing back with my swing, and also I feel so happy to be able to be aggressive and able to move well behind the plate."
His prowess from behind the dish is what impressed manager Kevin Cash most on Thursday.
"That's the first time I've actually seen Wilson kind of cut it loose," Cash said. "He gets rid of the ball quickly. He's got such a strong arm, I don't even think he squares his body up. He just gets up and fires it, and he's able to throw off his back leg."
And that's an area where the Rays have shown need for improvement. Tampa Bay catchers had nabbed 12 would-be basestealers this season entering Thursday's game, with 45 steals allowed. Only two teams had caught fewer runners.
Ramos will be leaned on to shore up the catcher position.
"The first [priority] for me is my defense," he said. "Throwing runners out; if I call a good game, I'll be very happy."
That's not to dismiss what Ramos did at the plate. He had never faced Sale, but he came away with two extra-base hits in three turns against the lefty.
"Maybe that helped," joked Peter Bourjos, who also took Sale deep. "He was just up there swinging and didn't really come up there with an approach, because he hadn't faced him. I'd faced [Sale] a lot, and I think this year he's a lot different than in years past. I feel like he's been tougher to pick up, and he's mixing his pitches a lot better."
Ramos studied video of Sale before the game and analyzed Sale's arm slot during his first at-bat, ignoring Sale's kinetic delivery.
"If you concentrate on his moving, he'll probably kill me," Ramos said.
The pair of hits against a dominating and unfamiliar opponent were nice, but Ramos remains focused on the task at hand.
"This series we have to play hard," he said. "And we have to win if we want to be in first place in the division."
Connor Mount is a reporter for MLB.com based in St. Petersburg.