Tuesday, January 16, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Rays snap skid, defeat Angels

ANAHEIM, Calif. — The progress the Rays showed offensively Tuesday night could be measured in various ways, though none greater than the smiles and relief on their faces after a 7-1 win over the Angels that snapped a five-game losing streak.

And also the positive vibe at the postgame get-together at a Long Beach sports bar manager Joe Maddon had decided mid-afternoon they were having no matter how the game had turned out.

"It was the Win or Weep party post-game tonight,'' he said. "Fortunately, it's a Win party.''

The seven runs were the most they scored in a week and a half — and matched their total during the five-game skid. The 15 hits were their most since Aug. 20, which also was the last time every player in the lineup had at least one. The 24 baserunners were their most since July 1. They scored in at least six different innings for the first time since June 10, and in six straight for the first since 2009.

And the offense wasn't the only happy return.

Matt Moore came off the disabled list with an impressive outing, working into the sixth inning, allowing just an unearned run.

The win, just the second in 10 games, at least temporarily halted their slide down the American League standings. The Rays improved to 76-61, remaining 5½ games behind the East-leading Red Sox and 2½ behind the wild-card leading A's while sitting 2½ ahead of the Yankees, and three ahead of the Orioles, for the second wild card.

"It feels really good, obviously, after the last six days,'' said Ben Zobrist, who had the biggest of their 15 hits. "Anytime you get a win in September, it's really big. If we keep focusing on the things we can control, trying to win our game, instead of thinking what other people are doing - tonight I thought we were focused on what we can do.''

Maddon said going in he would be happy getting five innings and a lead from Moore, who was under a 95-pitch limit for his first start since July 28, sidelined since then by a sore elbow.

The Rays got that and, well, more. The 24-year-old All-Star looked relatively sharp in picking up his 15th win, allowing four hits and four walks, striking out six, throwing 94 pitches (54 for strikes). He clocked in the low 90s with his fastball — hitting 95 mph once, according to mlb.com data, and 94 mph a few times — and got out of any trouble he got into. The walks were his only blemish.

"I'm very happy I was able to get through the fifth and leave the score where it was,'' Moore said. "These guys did a great job playing defense and scoring runs. They made my job easy.''

Maddon said there was a lot of to like about Moore's outing.

"I didn't see any grimacing first of all — I really thought he was well,'' Maddon said. "I liked that there was no hesitation on his curveball and changeup. ... His fastball, he normally throws some wildly and comes back and paints. That was normal. I liked the idea that he was able to throw the other things without hesitation. That was really good to see.''

Especially since the Rays were 13-18 while Moore was out, their starters were 8-13 with a 4.28 ERA. In the 31 games before Moore was hurt, they were 24-7, their starters were 20-6, 2.19.

"Any time a pitcher takes a month off you don't just expect him to come out and deal like that,'' Zobrist said. "That was a really big pick-me-up for the team.''

Moore left two batters into the sixth and Roberto Hernandez took it from there, retiring 11 straight, seven by strikeouts, in a dominating performance that netted him his first career save, and a game ball to show for it.

"I didn't even know know until somebody told me,'' Hernandez said. "Every pitch was working tonight, especially the changeup.''

The Rays took the lead in the second on a couple of hits and a groundout. After the Angels tied it on a second baseman Ben Zobrist's error, the Rays retook the lead in the third on Desmond Jennings' first home run since the All-Star break.

And, in the most encouraging sign of the night, they added on. Zobrist had what Maddon called a "huge" hit, doubling with two outs, and two strikes, in the fourth to push the lead from 2-1 to 4-1.

"That loosened everyone up,'' Maddon said.

"It gave us some breathing room,'' Zobrist said. "We've been playing a lot of one-run games. To get a little bit of a lead, a little bit of a cushion, just helps the team feel more relaxed.''

They kept going form there, making it 5-1 in the fifth on a single by Jose Lobaton, 6-1 in the sixth on Yunel Escobar's first homer since July, 7-1 in the seventh when Wil Myers doubled for the second time (his first multiple extra-base hit game since Aug. 15) and scored on a wild pitch.

There still were some causes for concern, as they went 3-for-20 with runners in scoring position and left 13 on. That included the second inning, when they started with a single and a double but got only one run, on Kelly Johnson's groundout, as Lobaton and Escobar struck out. And the third, when, after Jennings' leadoff homer, they loaded the bases on two walks and a single but James Loney (3-for-15 with bases loaded) bounced into a double play and Myers struck out.

But it was still somewhat of an improvement. During the five-game streak, they scored seven runs total and hit .194 overall, .133 with runners in scoring position, including 3-for-their-last-30. In losing eight of nine, they scored 19 runs total - their fewest in a nine-game span in nearly four years - and hit .214 overall, .172 with runners in scoring position.

So by the end of the night, there was reason for celebration. They had the usual post-game dance party, with the strobe lights they pack for every trip. And then they boarded a special bus Maddon arranged to take them to the Legends Sports Bar in the Belmont Shores area of Long Beach near where Maddon lives, (Maddon further spread the word with a tweet offering a free beer to any fans who showed up in Rays gear.)

The genesis of the Win or Weep party came, as so many of Maddon's ideas do, from growing up in Hazleton, Pa.

"Hazleton vs. West Hazleton, back in the day, Thanksgiving Day football — after the game, there was the Win or Weep Dance,'' he said. "Three years, Hazleton Win Dance.''

Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]

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