How to counter cold? Rays keep running

Club sets season high in runs while winning fifth straight game on 43-degree night

April 21st, 2021

The Rays woke up Tuesday morning to find snow covering the area outside their Kansas City hotel. They bundled up in the dugout and put on layers when they took the field Tuesday night at Kauffman Stadium. But the frigid air has not cooled them down on this trip.

The Rays ran their winning streak to five games and clinched their second straight series victory with a 14-7 win over the Royals. Tampa Bay has now outscored its opponents, 36-15, while winning five in a row in New York and Kansas City. The Rays have led after 34 of 45 innings and trailed at the end of only one during this road trip, which has brought their record to 10-8 on the year.

• Box score

“We’re pitching well. The offense is getting timely hits. The defense has been outstanding. And we’re winning games like we think we’re capable of,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “We’ve got one game left, but we’ve got to be pleased with the way we’re playing -- and we are.”

Josh Fleming and the Rays’ bullpen stole the show in Monday’s series opener, but the lineup took center stage on Tuesday as Tampa Bay dealt Kansas City its first series defeat of the season.

Seven Rays hitters drove in a run, with Manuel Margot and Yoshi Tsutsugo each driving in three, in their highest-scoring game so far this season. Five players put together multi-hit games, and their top three hitters -- Austin Meadows, Randy Arozarena and Joey Wendle -- each had three as part of the team’s 17-hit night. Tampa Bay used 10 position players, and nine scored a run.

“It just shows how good we actually are. This is a team that can do that,” said second baseman Brandon Lowe, who homered in the fourth. “As much as people always want to talk about our pitching, our hitters are pretty darn good, too.”

After a tough series at home, they’ve shown it on the road. The Rays are averaging 7.2 runs per game over their past five after scoring 3.8 runs per game in their first 13 of the season. 

For the most part, the Rays did it by simply taking what the Royals gave them. They walked their way to runs in a four-run second inning. They once again capitalized on defensive mistakes, as the Royals committed two errors and a handful of other misplays in the field. And they came through with timely hits when they needed them, giving their bullpen some breathing room after Rich Hill’s six-out start.

It’s typically not going to be an ideal night to hit when the temperature at first pitch is 43 degrees, but the weather didn’t seem to bother the Rays when they were at the plate or on the bases.

“We picked a very good night to string together that many hits. Everybody got to move around. Everybody got to run,” Lowe said. “I think everybody would’ve had it that way. It kept us loose, kept us warm on such a cold day. It was fun to be a part of.”

They needed that kind of night offensively, too, because the Royals kept it interesting throughout the game. The Rays scored one run in the first inning on a pair of singles and an error by Royals second baseman Whit Merrifield, then put up four more in a 10-batter, five-walk, one-hit second inning in which they chased starter Brad Keller.

After two quick innings, Hill exited without recording an out in the third. The Royals quickly put up four runs on four hits and a walk, pulling within a run. Andrew Kittredge calmed things down, however, retiring all three hitters he faced in the third.

“Without a doubt, he was huge for us, ready to go,” Cash said of Kittredge. “We're so fortunate to have a bullpen that is as flexible as those guys are and understand on any given notice, a quick night [for the starter], whatever it is: Be ready. And they were today.”

The Rays steadily piled on from there. Lowe homered to center off Ervin Santana in the fourth. Kevin Kiermaier doubled and scored on Willy Adames' triple in the fifth. With a little help from the Royals’ defense, Arozarena, Wendle, Lowe, Margot and Tsutsugo strung together five straight hits to drive in four runs off Kyle Zimmer in the sixth.

The Royals were still within four runs heading into the ninth, having scored a run off the just-recalled Brent Honeywell Jr., Hunter Strickland and Trevor Richards. But the Rays put the game well out of reach in the ninth, when Zunino and Meadows launched back-to-back homers off Greg Holland.

“It was a special night. It's tough with the weather being cold, and you can obviously make that excuse,” said Meadows, who finished a triple shy of the cycle. “But for us to come out and bang the way we did was awesome. Being aggressive all night and getting guys on base, everything was clicking.”