Rays find rhythm in Seattle, despite loss in finale

Margot homers in third straight game as Yarbrough returns to form

May 9th, 2022

SEATTLE -- For a time, it looked like Manuel Margot had done it again Sunday afternoon at T-Mobile Park. The Rays’ scorching-hot “Manny Mar-go-ahead” broke a scoreless tie with an eighth-inning homer off Mariners reliever Erik Swanson, giving Tampa Bay’s typically sturdy bullpen a late-inning lead.

But Abraham Toro hit a tie-breaking homer off Rays reliever Andrew Kittredge with one out in the ninth, and Tampa Bay came up empty in the 10th while Seattle capitalized on its scoring opportunity. In the end, Ty France lined a walk-off single to left field off Matt Wisler, and the Mariners dealt the Rays a 2-1 loss to end Tampa Bay’s six-game winning streak.

“That’s just a good baseball game, 0-0 in the eighth and then we take the lead, and then credit to them. They battled back,” Kittredge said. “There's no reason to believe that we're not going to continue to play well. A loss like this stings, but at the same time, just the way we're playing, I don't think that's a step in the wrong direction.”

That was the consensus in the Rays’ clubhouse as they departed Seattle for Anaheim, where they’ll begin a three-game set against the Angels on Monday night. Frustrating as it might have been, one loss did not change their outlook. They simply ran into an electric young pitcher in George Kirby, who struck out seven over six innings in his impressive Major League debut, and came up short in extras.

“That's a tough one. We played really, really good baseball here over the last six, seven days, even today,” manager Kevin Cash said. “One run doesn't generally get it done. We know that. But saying that, their guy was just outstanding. What a day for him. I'm guessing his mom's pretty happy. Their pitching was good. Our pitching went toe-to-toe.”

Here are three takeaways from the Rays’ season series finale against the Mariners.

They’ve found their footing

The Rays have won six of seven games on this 10-game West Coast trip, 11 of their last 15 overall and 13 of 18. They have the AL’s third-highest-scoring offense, behind the Angels and Guardians, and own the league’s fourth-lowest ERA, at 3.25. Only two teams in the American League have more wins: the Yankees and Angels, both with 19.

After dropping six of seven against the Mariners last season, the Rays won five of seven this year to capture the season series for only the second time since 2013. Those numbers don’t necessarily take the sting out of Sunday’s loss, but they make it easier to bounce back knowing they’re on the right track.

“I think all facets are kind of going right now, and I think we're going to continue that momentum going forward,” Wisler said. “We’re feeling good right now. We're in every ballgame. Even when we're losing, we're not getting blown out. We're playing good baseball, and stuff's starting to go our way.”

Yarbs looked like Yarbs

In his season debut Tuesday in Oakland, left-hander Ryan Yarbrough gave up five runs on six hits and three walks while throwing 56 pitches to record only seven outs. But Sunday’s outing was a return to form, a reminder of what Yarbrough can bring to Tampa Bay’s rotation.

Yarbrough held the Mariners to four singles and a walk while striking out four. He cruised through five innings on 68 pitches, with Seattle producing a meager 83 mph average exit velocity against him. He mixed his four pitches, using no offering more than 22 times and nothing fewer than 10 times.

In short, he performed like himself, a development Cash called both “really encouraging” and the “highlight of our day.”

“We were really trying to get some rhythm and timing, some tempo going. Feel like that was 100 percent better,” Yarbrough said. “Definitely a step in the right direction and just something to continue to build off of.”

Rays starters Shane McClanahan (3.06 ERA), Drew Rasmussen (2.89) and Corey Kluber (2.36) have all been pitching well. After dominating out of the bullpen, lefty Jeffrey Springs will officially join the rotation as he starts Monday. Getting this version of Yarbrough back would only make a dangerous rotation that much better.

Manny Mar-go-ahead’ stays hot

Margot has homered in three straight games for the first time in his career. He had a go-ahead, three-run homer in the ninth inning on Friday, his first career grand slam off former teammate Diego Castillo in the eighth on Saturday and a tie-breaking homer off Swanson in the eighth on Sunday -- all after delivering the game-winning hit Wednesday in Oakland.

Overall, Margot is batting .325 with an .885 OPS and 20 RBIs in 24 games. He’s hit safely in all eight games this month. He’s hitting the ball harder and hitting it in the air more often. With some of their top hitters still searching, he’s been a huge boost for the Rays lineup.

“He's had a special week,” Cash said. “Hopefully he can continue it, because he's done so many good things for us.”