ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays' inexplicable disparity between their offense at home vs. the road has been a hot topic at the Trop.
So much so that, manager Joe Maddon quipped, "It proves we're not cheating."
But in the Rays' 9-1 win over the Blue Jays on Wednesday — their most lopsided home victory this season — they certainly pulled out all the stops in a rare outburst, mixing small ball with the long ball. It was nearly as many runs as Tampa Bay had scored in its previous five home games combined (10).
"We played all components of the game — you play small ball, you play big ball, you pitch well, you catch it on defense," Maddon said. "From a baseball purist perspective, to see a team execute like that has to be fun to watch."
The Rays (57-52) tied a season high with three homers, including the first of catcher Robinson Chirinos' career. But their four-run second-inning rally was sparked by three consecutive bunts.
"Small ball is huge for us," outfielder Matt Joyce said. "We're going to have to utilize that the rest of the way in order to be successful. Because we're not going to hit as many homers as the Yankees, it's just not going to happen. But we can play the game the right way."
Small ball is part of the Rays' game, with players having worked on situational bunting and baserunning since spring training. But Maddon said the right opportunity has to present itself — including how the defense is positioned —and "everything just opened up."
Ben Zobrist started the second with a homer. With runners on first and third, Sean Rodriguez bunted a 3-and-1 pitch from Carlos Villanueva down the first-base line, scoring a run. Chirinos followed with another RBI bunt single toward first, and Desmond Jennings reached with a perfect bunt down the third-base line.
The Rays have bunted with runners on first and third and less than two outs 10 times this season, resulting in nine runs.
"Most of the time, they don't see it coming," Rodriguez said. "It's amazing, it worked out nice."
That was more than enough for right-hander James Shields, who bounced back nicely from his worst start of the season (10 runs, 12 hits in Oakland) by allowing a run in 71/3 innings. With a more compact delivery, Shields kept the ball down and the Jays off-balance while receiving season-high run support.
"You need but one or two runs for that guy," Rodriguez said. "He's been unbelievable this year."
Chirinos had a special night in front of 11,803 at the Trop, including his three-run shot in the third while walking twice and reaching base four times. Leftfielder Sam Fuld had joked with Chirinos a few days earlier that even he had a homer, and so did Brandon Guyer (who is in Triple-A Durham) — three of the players the Rays received from the Cubs in the Matt Garza trade.
"So I have my one tonight," Chirinos said, smiling.
It all added up to a uniquely offensive night for the Rays.
"Potentially, we're good enough to do that every night, I think," Shields said. "Today we set the tone by playing small ball early. That's the kind of team we've always been, and I think we got away from it a little bit."
Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com.