ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rangers responded appropriately Saturday. Shortstop Corey Seager responded the same way he has the past three weeks -- by hitting and hitting and hitting.
Seager registered the first five-hit performance of his 819-game Major League career as the Rangers (41-22) snapped a two-game losing streak and returned to their high-scoring offensive form by defeating the Rays, 8-4, at Tropicana Field.
Seager was 5-for-5 -- a triple short of the cycle -- to highlight the Rangers’ 12-hit attack, and that included four RBIs on a two-run homer and two-run double.
“I’m just in a good spot,’’ said Seager, who has an MLB-leading 29 RBIs since May 17, when he was activated from the injured list. “And the team is in a good spot. Hitting is contagious. When you have a lineup that competes [in] every at-bat, it makes you want to [contribute].’’
“You’re talking about an elite hitter,’’ Rangers manager Bruce Bochy said. “He has such a great swing. We’re spoiled with him. [The Rays] kept bringing in lefties and Corey kept getting hits. I was really surprised to hear he had never had a five-hit game before. As good as he is, I guess I just expected he had already done that.’’
On a career day for Seager, Bochy said he was even more impressed with the gritty work from starter Nathan Eovaldi (9-2), who is unbeaten in his last 10 starts. Eovaldi allowed four runs and seven hits -- including a three-run homer by Rays catcher Francisco Mejía in the fourth, making it a 6-4 game at the time -- over 6 1/3 innings.
Eovaldi buckled down and worked into the seventh, when right-hander Josh Sborz was summoned. Sborz issued a two-out walk to Randy Arozarena, filling the bases. But Isaac Paredes, representing the tying run, grounded out to third baseman Josh Jung.
“Eovaldi is as good a competitor as you can get on the mound,’’ Bochy said. “He knows what he wants to do. He has a plan and he stays focused pitch to pitch. [The Rays] got back in the game and he regrouped.’’
“We put some runs on them early, so it was frustrating for me to give up [the Mejía homer],’’ Eovaldi said. “It’s important for me to throw up zeros and get the guys back in the dugout as fast as possible. I just had to keep battling and keep attacking.’’
Eovaldi received all the support he needed with three-run bursts in the second and fourth innings.
In the second, Seager’s bases-loaded double brought in two runs and made it 3-0. It was Seager again in the fourth with a two-out, two-run homer on the first pitch he saw from left-hander Jalen Beeks, who relieved Rays starter Taj Bradley (4-3). Ezequiel Duran had an RBI double earlier in the inning.
The Rangers got a pair of insurance runs in the sixth on a two-run ground-rule double by Adolis García off Rays left-hander José Lopez, who made his Major League debut.
Seager became the fifth player in franchise history (Texas and Washington) to not be retired at the plate with at least five hits and four RBIs and the first time since Josh Hamilton went 5-for-5 with four homers and eight RBIs on May 8, 2012 in Baltimore. It was also only the fourth time a Ranger had a five-hit game since 2014 (including García, who went 5-for-6 on April 22 against the Athletics).
“Seager, he’s pretty good,’’ Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “He has good at-bats against righties, lefties, fastballs, breaking balls -- it doesn’t matter.’’
“Seager is obviously a great player,’’ Beeks said. “They’ve got one of the best lineups in baseball.’’
The Rangers now have a season-best plus-153 run differential to lead MLB and they have scored 397 runs (6.3-run average) in 63 games.
Overall, it was an encouraging Rangers offensive effort after a two-game siesta (three runs, seven total hits, two defeats) and it evened the three-game series matching the teams with MLB’s best two records. The Rays (47-20) had been one of five clubs since 1901 to win at least 30 of their first 36 home games (they are now 30-7 at the Trop this season).
The deciding game in the series is Sunday afternoon. The Rangers will send left-hander Martín Pérez (6-1) to the mound against Rays left-handed ace Shane McClanahan (9-1).
“This was a big game for us because it puts us in a position to win the series,’’ Bochy said. “The Rays have a great ballclub. They’ve been clicking everywhere. You know what they have done at home. When you have a chance to win a game here, you take it.’’