Diaz's leadoff homer sets the tone for Rays

April 28th, 2019

BOSTON -- The Rays wasted no time getting payback for being swept by the Red Sox last weekend.

led off Saturday's 2-1 win with a 428-foot home run off that raced over Fenway Park's Green Monster in center field at an exit velocity of 105.1 mph, according to Statcast.

“I don’t know if it could start any better for us,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “Any time you get an early lead, even though it’s one [run], you know you’ve got a battle going with Price on the mound.”

It was Diaz’s team-high seventh homer of the season and his third in six games, a stark contrast to the single home run he hit over the last two seasons combined with the Indians. Two of his homers have come off the Red Sox, against whom he is batting .429 in four games this season. Diaz has focused on elevating the ball this season but he surprised himself with the distance of Saturday’s blast.

“I knew I hit it high enough, so I thought ‘maybe it has a chance,’” Diaz said. “And it went.”

Last weekend the Red Sox took all three games of the series at Tropicana Field. Each of the matchups were tied until at least the seventh inning, the finale going 11. The Rays anticipated a close-fought duel in Boston, and jumped out with aggressive bats to make sure they got ahead early.

drove in the Rays’ second -- and deciding -- run in the fourth inning off a line drive to left that scored . The catcher belted the RBI single off the Green Monster with a 112.3 exit velocity, his second-hardest hit ball this season. Zunino has now driven in a run in five straight starts.

Pitching fends off comeback

The win was just as much a redemption on offense as it was for the pitching. held the Red Sox to only one hit through five innings, before smacked a double off the Monster. He recorded five strikeouts, four walks and two hits in six scoreless innings. Morton struck out nine in his last outing against the defending World Series champions, but gave up a grand slam to and five earned runs in the Rays’ 6-5 loss on April 20.

Morton threw 102 pitches on Saturday, his most since July 25, 2018, when he matched that tally, and has limited opponents to five hits or fewer in all of his starts this season.

“It wasn’t really one thing in particular,” Morton said. “I think I was just mixing pretty well for all of my pitches. That kind of made up for any lack of command, and I was able to leave the guys on the bases.”

The Rays’ bullpen staved off a Red Sox rally attempt in the eighth inning. With the Rays leading 2-0, homered off , who also walked Bogaerts to put a runner on first. replaced Castillo looking for two outs. He gave up a single to , struck out and then loaded the bases with a walk to . Alvarado got out of the jam by striking out swinging. The lefty has held opponents scoreless in 11 of his 13 appearances this season.

picked up his third save to boost the Rays to 16-9, the club’s third-most wins through 26 games in its history.

“We had to keep our poise there because they certainly put pressure on it,” Cash said. “We made some really big pitches when we had to. A total team pitching staff effort.”

Just how key was the Rays’ pitching in locking down the win? Saturday marked their first victory of the season when scoring two runs or fewer.

“It’s nice to be here with this group,” Morton said. “Everybody’s awesome. It’s really fun. The arms that are out of the pen, just all of them [are] nasty. It’s so much fun.”