Left-hander Josh Fleming was speaking to head of mental performance Justin Su’a when the Rays were trailing by two on Friday night at Tropicana Field. Even with that deficit in place, Fleming said, Su’a confidently stated, “We’re going to win this game. I just have this feeling.” A few hours and three runs later, Brett Phillips was doing his airplane run into the outfield and the Rays were celebrating. For Tampa Bay, it looked and felt like last year.
“I think we're starting to feel it. Everyone's starting to feel it a little bit,” Fleming said Saturday morning. “And it's just a good feeling.”
The Rays kept that feeling going on Saturday afternoon, erasing a three-run deficit with a five-run fourth inning then piling on six more runs in the eighth to beat the Mets, 12-5. Tampa Bay has won three games in a row, totaling 24 runs on 32 hits during that stretch while moving a season-high-tying three games above .500.
“Are we gonna come back in every game? Obviously not,” said Joey Wendle, who recorded a career-high-tying four hits and a career-high three doubles. “But to know that you have that ability and know you have just kind of that grit as a team, I think that definitely helps throughout the course of a long season.”
Even when they’ve lost, the Rays’ pitching has kept every game close lately. Six of their first seven losses this season were by at least four runs. In the month since then, they’ve lost exactly one game by more than three runs -- a 9-2 decision against the Astros on April 30 -- and dropped only two games by more than two runs.
But their bats have come to life lately, too, creating opportunities to come back the way they did in the late innings on Friday and spark big innings the way they did on Saturday.
“It's just about keeping the right mentality. Although we may not be getting the results we wanted personally or as a team, we've got to keep the positive attitude,” said Yandy Díaz, who went 3-for-4 with two doubles, through interpreter Manny Navarro. “And if we keep on doing that, you hope that good things will happen.”
Lefty Shane McClanahan put Tampa Bay in an early hole, as José Peraza crushed a hanging slider out to left for a three-run homer in the second inning and Pete Alonso bashed another slider for a solo shot in the third. Those two-out homers, McClanahan said, were the result of him trying to add movement to his slider rather than simply trusting his electric stuff in the strike zone.
But the Rays answered by sending nine men to the plate in the fourth against Mets pitchers Joey Lucchesi and Sean Reid-Foley. Yandy Díaz worked a leadoff walk, Wendle doubled to left, Manuel Margot drove in Díaz with an infield single, then Willy Adames tied the game with a double to center.
With two outs and the right-handed Reid-Foley entering the game, manager Kevin Cash deployed left-handed pinch-hitter Austin Meadows. Hours earlier, Cash had said Meadows would be available for “a big at-bat at some point during the game.” That turned out to be it, as Meadows smacked a go-ahead double to right field and came around to score on Randy Arozarena’s single to right.
“It seems like they're all heading in the right direction,” Cash said. “When you score nine runs [on Thursday] and then three [on Friday] and then [12 on Saturday], that takes a full lineup to contribute. So we definitely feel better than we did, say, a week ago, where we're at offensively.”
McClanahan held the line, allowing no further damage while pitching into the sixth inning for the first time to earn his first Major League win. McClanahan said he had family on hand to witness the occasion, and Kevin Kiermaier presented him the ball postgame to mark his first big league win.
“Hopefully the first of a lot,” McClanahan said. “I think getting this one out of the way was good for me. It was a lot of fun.”
Francisco Lindor homered off Jeffrey Springs in the eighth to make it a one-run game, but the Rays broke the game open after that. They loaded the bases with nobody out in the eighth, then Díaz and Wendle chopped back-to-back two-run doubles past the Mets’ infield and Brett Phillips smacked another two-run double to center.
Rather than stressing over their previous struggles with runners in scoring position, the Rays are now seeing -- and believing -- they can count on their lineup to help them get back in games.
“Now what's fresh in your mind is, 'Oh, well, last time with runners in scoring position, we did this,’” Wendle said. “So there's not this kind of built-up pressure that, you know, 'It has to be me," or, 'I have to do this,' or 'I have to do that.' So I think that does kind of play back into itself.”