CHICAGO — Manager Kevin Cash said going into Friday's game he was absolutely, positively sure his wild-card chasing Rays wouldn't have any kind of letdown in opening a three-game series against the American League-worst White Sox.
Logan Morrison led the way to make sure, as the Rays rolled to a 3-1 win on a chilly night.
Morrison got the Rays off to a good start by launching his team-high 34th homer for a 2-0 lead in the first and singled in another run in the third to provide the offense. SS Adeiny Hechavarria led the defense with a hand in 10 outs, including starting three double plays of various degrees of difficulty.
And Blake Snell took care of the pitching, delivering another strong outing, allowing just the unearned run while working into the seventh, improving to 3-0, 1.91 over his last five starts. The bullpen took it from there, with RHPs Steve Cishek and Tommy Hunter getting it to the ninth, and RHP Alex Colome finishing for his 41st save, most in the majors.
Cash credited Kevin Kiermaier, who singled on the opening pitch, and Morrison for putting the Rays out front early, which allowed Snell to relax.
And he praised Snell for staying focused through the error that led to a second-inning run and a couple of walks. Though Snell threw only 85 pitches to get two outs into the seventh, Cash felt "he did his job" and wanted to turn it over to the bullpen.
The Rays (68-68) got back to .500 for the 21st time this season, and matched their 2016 win total.
Of more importance, they gained a game on both AL wild-card leaders, now four behind the Yankees and three behidn the Twins, though with the Angels and Orioles in between them.
After this weekend, the Rays' final 24 games are against contenders. Cash said that was no excuse for a letdown against the 52-81 Sox.
"I was confident, just the makeup, the way these guys have carried themselves all year long,'' he said. "They know what's at stake. You talk about scoreboard watching and this and that, you almost look beyond that. We have to win out and win series, and good things will happen.''
Former catcher Norris suspended by MLB
Former Rays C Derek Norris was suspended for the rest of this season by MLB in a negotiated resolution of a nearly three months investigation into domestic abuse allegations by his former fiancée. As part of the agreement, Norris will forfeit the final $100,000 in termination pay owed by the Rays, who will instead donate the money to charities involved with domestic violence.
Norris was the Rays starting catcher much of the first three months after signing in spring training. MLB confirmed it was investigating the domestic violence matter on June 7; Norris was designated for assignment on June 24 when Wilson Ramos was ready to come off the DL, and has not played since.
In a statement, commissioner Rob Manfred said he found Norris' "conduct warranted discipline," though noting Norris cooperated with the investigation, denied the allegation and agreed to not appeal.
Help here, and more coming
C Curt Casali and relievers LHP Adam Kolarek and RHP Ryne Stanek joined the team Friday to provide depth as the first call-ups with the rosters being expanded, though more may be coming soon.
Casali was most appreciative of the opportunity, having spent the entire season at Triple A, which was a bit of an adjustment after spending most of 2016 in the majors, making a team most 62 starts.
Casali said he benefitted from consistent at-bats at Durham, hitting .263, and enjoyed providing leadership to his mostly younger teammates. But he also was glad to finally get back to the bigs.
"It was out of my control," he said. "I'm happy to be part of this club still. I'm happy they gave me another chance to contribute in any way I possibly can. Just go from there and have some fun."
More players will be added in stages, some based on their roles with Durham throughout the playoffs, others on their eligibility dates to return. RHP Chase Whitley and RHP Andrew Kittredge could be added to the bullpen as soon as Sunday; INF Trevor Plouffe early next week. Later candidates include OF Mallex Smith and LHP Jose Alvarado, who missed more than a week at Durham due to a family matter.
A coincidence? You decide
Are the White Sox trolling the Rays? They picked today to give out a bobblehead celebrating LHP Mark Buehrle's perfect game. The one he threw in 2009, so it's not a round anniversary. And on July 23, so it's not the date. Hmm. But it was against the Rays.
• LHP Jonny Venters took another step toward what would be a remarkable return to the majors with a promotion to Triple-A Durham. Venters, who last pitched in the majors in 2012, has had three Tommy John surgeries and a fourth ligament tear.
• The Rays extended the usual Tuesday $2 kids ticket deal to all three games against the Twins next week, and will open gates at 5 for Monday's Labor Day game, one-half hour earlier than usual.
• RHP Jake Faria (abdominal strain) will throw a bullpen session today at the Trop. RHP Nathan Eovaldi (Tommy John surgery) and LHP Xavier Cedeno (forearm) will throw live batting practice and could advance to rehab games next week.