ST. PETERSBURG —The Rays still have issues, so don’t go too far with Sunday’s 4-2 sweep-avoiding win over the White Sox.
The offense remaining somnambulant, producing only three hits on the day, fortunate that one happened to be a grand slam by Travis d’Arnaud.
Blake Snell throwing well, but again not quite enough, pitching himself out of the game after six innings.
And Kevin Kiermaier, sidelining himself likely a couple weeks with a thumb sprain and hinting passive aggressively about the team lacking a spark.
But Sunday was something, as the Rays snapped their season-long five-game losing streak, and gathered at least some momentum as they ready to face the Red Sox for the first of six games over 11 days.
Given how rough it had been going, they needed someone to lead the way, and that was d’Arnaud, who has had three of their biggest home runs of the season all in the last 16 days.
Sunday, it was d’Arnaud’s blast to left after the first three Rays got on in the second that staked them to a 4-0 lead which Snell and three relievers hung on to, which was victory unto itself.
“It was huge,’’ manager Kevin Cash said. “We needed it. We really needed it because there wasn’t much after that.
“Travis has been swinging a pretty hot bat for us. He’s come up with some big home runs as of late. That was a really big one. Just kind of relaxed the dugout a little bit that we put a crooked number up there rather than a missed opportunity.”
They’d been missing plenty, scoring only nine runs total during the five-game skid, going an abysmal 2-for-32 with runners in scoring position (with both hits in the first two innings Friday), leaving 37 men on.
“That was a tough five games,’’ d’Arnaud said. “That’s why this this win is so big.’’
D’Arnaud, the former Mets starter picked up from the Dodgers in May when the Rays were desperate for catching help, has been a huge part of what success they’ve had recently.
He hit a walkoff homer to beat the Yankees July 6. Then foiled them again last Monday in New York, hitting a team-record tying three homers, including a three-run shot with two outs in the ninth, to put the Rays head to stay. An 0-for-11 later, he struck Sunday off Sox starter Dylan Cease.
“When I pitch and he’s catching, he hits home runs,’’ Snell said, the starter in all three games. “So I’m very thankful for him. … He’s been a great addition to the team.’’
In what’s been a noteworthy run of 10 homers in his last 28 games, d’Arnaud has had first walkoff homer, his first leadoff homer and his first three-homer game. Then Sunday, his first grand slam.
“It’s a pretty good one,’’ d’Arnaud said. “Top 10, I would say. More importantly we won.’’
That was especially critical coming off a frustrating Saturday night in which they blew a 1-0 lead in the ninth, lost the game 2-1 and Kiermaier to a thumb injury on a headfirst slide into first, a risky maneuver me made to try to inspire his mates.
“That’s who I am,’’ he said Sunday. “I’m going to tell you guys, when you watch Kevin Kiermiaer play, he’ll do anything it takes to win a ballgame. Especially given this team, and you hope that rubs off on your teammates.’’
There was more to Sunday’s win than d’Arnaud’s hitting and Snell’s pitching.
* In wriggling out of a two-on, none-out jam in the first, Snell made a huge play in covering the plate after a pitch eluded d’Arnaud, and got his foot down, then his glove to tag out Leury Garcia. “He looked like he’d done it before,’’ Cash said.
* Ahead of d’Arnaud’s grand slam, Yandy Diaz drew a four-pitch leadoff walk, Avisail Garcia singled against his ex-mates and Joey Wendle had arguably the afternoon’s best at-bat, working through 10 Dylan Cease pitches for the bases-loading walk.
“That was a huge at-bat,’’ d’Arnaud said. “He battled. I think he was at two strikes early in the count. He was able to tire him out a little bit, which I think got me a good pitch hit. That was probably the biggest at-bat of the day if you were to ask me.’’
* Holding leads has been an issue for the Rays, so 4-0 after six innings was far from safe as Cash tried to find the right matchups.
Andrew Kittredge worked the seventh, allowing two runs. Emilio Pagan, who gave up the game-tying homer to James McCann on Saturday, got him and two others in the eighth. Adam Kolarek, after a warning track fly ball scare to start the ninth by Wellington Castillo, finished.
The relief work was important for the bottom line, as the Rays improved to 57-45, staying two games behind the wild-card leading Indians, moving one back of the second place A’s and two ahead of the Red Sox.
Bigger, Pagan said, for the big picture.
“Definitely more so for the psyche of the team,’’ he said. “It was huge to be able to hold on to that lead there and finish it off.’’
They needed something.
Contact Marc Topkin at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.