ST. PETERSBURG — Wednesday started inauspiciously for the Rays.
Neither shortstop Matt Duffy, bothered by soreness in his previously strained left Achilles, nor second baseman Logan Forsythe, felled by back spasms that began when he bent to pick up a towel, were able to be in the lineup.
Then, as they were readying to hit in the bottom of the first, leadoff man Nick Franklin was struck on the helmet by the bat of No. 2 hitter Kevin Kiermaier as he loosened in the on-deck circle.
Franklin would bat, walk and score on the Brad Miller homer that was the difference in the 2-0 sweep-completing victory over the Padres. But he then left the game after the first inning, dazed and later diagnosed with a head contusion, though no concussion.
"We were playing with two guys down pretty much (Wednesday), and then I hit Nick in the head," Kiermaier said. "I'm like, 'Gosh, this is kind of the storyline of our season.' I'm just glad he's okay. Could have been worse."
Indeed, it has been that kind of season — weird, painful and full of things you can't believe you saw.
Basically a .500 team into mid June despite inconsistencies from the starting core that was supposedly its strength. Crashing and flailing helplessly through a historically horrid 3-24 stretch as injuries piled up and run prevention was a contradiction in terms. Then coming out of the All-Star break with the rotation back in order, posting the best ERA in the American League and with the defense tightened up, though with only a 16-15 mark thus far.
So as weird as Wednesday was, it was fitting in a way for a season that will be unsatisfying but nevertheless interesting.
"Never seen that happen," Franklin said. "Well, I've seen it happen maybe on TV, in like bloopers or something. Hopefully I don't make that list."
Franklin was at the top of the lineup only because Forsythe was sidelined for a second straight day after his back spasmed Tuesday when he did nothing worse than pick up a dirty towel at his locker.
"I grabbed my towel, turned to throw it in the bin over there and just shutdown mode," Forsythe explained. "I walked back (to the trainers' room), 'Um, I can't really move and I don't know why?' And they're like, 'Yeah, your back spazzed up.' "
Duffy, meanwhile, was out after playing just 12 innings on the same Trop field where he first strained the Achilles in mid June with the Giants. He said he wasn't concerned, but he is obviously new to the hard surface, and it may be an issue the Rays have to factor into managing his playing time going forward.
Both Duffy and Forsythe are expected to play Friday.
After Chris Archer's sharp top of the first, highlighted by a fastball clocking 98 mph, Franklin was reaching for some pine tar as Kiermaier was swinging his bat, with a 1.6-pound weighted sleeve, in circles with his left arm and clunked him on the top of his head on the way down.
"The most contact I made this whole day was before the game even started," said Kiermaier, who was 0-for-4 with three strikeouts. "Crazy timing with how it happened."
Franklin was, understandably, both dazed and confused, though he took some blame for not taking more care when he saw Kiermaier swinging.
"I feel great. I feel like really nothing happened," he said, having passed initial concussion testing with a followup Friday to be sure. "Right when it first happened it was shocking, and that's what kind caught me off guard. I felt a little bit dazed, but I didn't feel like anything happened particularly bad at all."
Once Rays manager Kevin Cash realized what happened — "I didn't actually see it happen, I heard it." — and head athletic trainer Ron Porterfield made the decision to pull Franklin after the first, the Rays had to scramble.
Not wanting to lose the DH by moving Logan Morrison to first, Cash instead opted for catcher Luke Maile — who, naturally, made a trio of impressive plays at first — then sent Miller back from first to short and slid Tim Beckham over to second. As a result, they were playing with one healthy player on the bench, Corey Dickerson.
But with Miller giving them the lead with the 25th homer of his unexpected power show of a season; Archer pitching like he did in the first half of the 2015 season, mixing the high-octane fastball with the biting slider; and relievers Xavier Cedeno and Alex Colome finishing, the Rays had enough to log a season-high-matching fourth straight win, improving to 50-69.
What started memorable for the wrong reasons turned out to be a game worth remembering.
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.