ST. PETERSBURG — One thing about these Rays, perhaps more than any other of their quirky things, is that they keep it interesting. Always, interesting.
Just in the last 10 days, losing five of seven on the road, then coming back to sweep the Yankees and then Monday blast the Nationals 11-0.
"It's a lot of fun,'' manager Kevin Cash said. "We were laughing in the dugout, like it's an interesting team. We've lost too many in a row, and then we've won some in a row.''
Like Monday, when they cruised past a Nats team that played like it got in at 5:30 a.m. (as it did), making the big question who had the best of a lot of good nights.
Was it Blake Snell?
All he did was work six no-hit innings, and a seventh without allowing a run, in improving to a sterling — and seemingly All-Star worthy —10-4, 2.31.
Snell walked the first two Nats — "I got pissed; I was annoyed" — then got on a roll retiring 18 straight, striking out 10 in a dazzling 14-batter stretch that looked like no-hit stuff.
Cash thought so, noting Snell's potentially best fastball of the year ("the velocity, the zip on it, through the zone it seemed like a lot of guys had issues catching up with it'') and a dastardly assortment of breaking balls. "You can watch the reaction of the guys' swings; there were breaking balls missed by quite a bit.''
Snell said he was in a good groove, though not as good as his June 3 start in Seattle: "Just got in a rhythm. A lot of first pitch strikes. Off-speed played well. It was because I was in the zone, I was aggressive.''
Snell opened the seventh with 80 pitches, so finishing off what would have been the second no-hitter in franchise history was at least possible.
But Anthony Rendon quickly took away the drama, lashing a ball off the leftfield wall for a double. Snell walked two more in the inning, but escaped with the shutout intact.
Snell said he was aware of the no-hitter "but didn't put too much into it,'' and wouldn't have until the eighth.
Was it Kevin Kiermaier?
All he did was deliver the key hit that made the night fun, a grand slam in the six-run second inning.
Kiermaier had been off to a slow start since coming back early from right thumb surgery, hitless in his first 13 at-bats and just 2-for-22 until stepping to the plate in the second and crushing one of the few pitches Nats starter Gio Gonzalez got over the plate for his second career grand slam.
"I go on my rehab assignment and I was barreling up so many balls and ever since I've been back in the big leagues that hasn't been the case,'' he said. "I just wanted to put the ball in play and drive in a run whatever way I could. … It felt good to barrel up a ball and take advantage of a pitch I should hit.''
He didn't expect the drama of centerfielder Michael A. Taylor nearly robbing him. "I didn't think there'd be a play,'' he said. "I guess I don't know my pop after all this time off, I thought I hit it way better than that.''Photo Gallery: Rays 11-0 win over Nationals after coming off their thrilling sweep of the Yankees
Was it Wilson Ramos?
All he did was hit two home runs against his former team, and enjoy the view.
"Very exciting day for me,'' Ramos said. "I was super excited for those two games in D.C. (in early June) and I went 0-for-8. This time, I was more relaxed. … I was trying to do something special today.''
Ramos' solid season for the Rays, with 11 homers and a .293 average, seems likely to earn him a trip back to Washington, where he played seven seasons, for next month's All-Star Game.
But could there be a more permanent reunion coming? The Nats need a frontline catcher as they battle to get in, and then deep into, the playoffs. The Rays are looking to get something for Ramos before he leaves as free agent. It seems a perfect match. Is there room on the charter after Tuesday's game?
Was it Jake Bauers?
All he did was follow up Sunday's walkoff dagger against the Yankees by going 4-for-5.
The rookie came up with a pretty good encore after he hit a 12th-inning walkoff homer that secured a sweep of the Yankees, rapping four hits to hike his average to .297. "He continues to really impress,'' Cash said.
The win was the Rays' fourth straight, and sixth in their last eight games as they improved to 38-40. It also was their seventh straight at the Trop, their longest such streak since 2013. After a 2-7 start at home this season, the Rays have won 17 of their last 26.
"These are the fun nights to be a part of when you put a whipping on the other team,'' Kiermaier said.
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes_Rays