ST. PETERSBURG — Even before they lost several of the hitters they were relying most on to injuries, the Rays did not exactly have a lineup built on intimidation.
Their own owner said opening day that he expected them to rank among the least productive in the American League as they gave up/away most of their power in favor of a more contact-oriented approach. Assorted website computers projected similar impotency.
Then take away catalyst Kevin Kiermaier, dependable Matt Duffy and hit-or-miss Brad Miller, all currently on the DL, and what's left strikes out more than it strikes fear.
Consider Wednesday's two through five coupling of Daniel Robertson, Carlos Gomez, C.J. Cron and Adeiny Hechavarria. How many of those guys would hit in the middle of other major-league lineups? And those, plus veteran leadoff man Denard Span and catcher Wilson Ramos, are the most recognizable names the Rays have.
But it was that quartet, sparked by even less heralded rookie Johnny Field, that came through in a sixth-inning rally that sent the Rays to a 4-2 victory and a much-needed series win over the Rangers, surviving another Alex Colome ninth to get there, improving to 5-13.
"Each day you put a lineup out there and you've got to go out and compete — I don't care if we're playing Team USA or … ," Robertson said. "Yeah, looking down the lineup there's not a lot of names that jump out at you. But that doesn't mean that we as a team don't believe in each guy. And each guy believes in himself to out there and perform to get the job done. And I think that's the main key."
It worked Wednesday, and against wily veteran Cole Hamels. Down 1-0 after Jake Faria's one bad mistake in allowing a 2-0 homer to Shin-Soo Choo in the third, the Rays rallied.
Field opened the sixth with a single to right. Robertson then delivered the kind of clutch knock they've been lacking, a double down the leftfield line.
"Just that jolt we needed," Robertson said. "We haven't had that big hit a while it seemed like. So it definitely felt really good."
Third base coach Matt Quatraro made an aggressive call to send Field home, and the hard-charging rookie took it from there, sliding in head first to tie it.
"Just trying to do what I can," Field said. "A lot of guys are getting big opportunities right now. I'm trying to seize it and go out and make the most of it right now."
After Gomez was hit — somehow on both hands — by a Hamels pitch, Cron blooped a single over the infield. Robertson, who had advanced to third on the throw home, scored. More importantly, Gomez busted it running hard to third, and that mattered as he scored on Hechavarria's sac fly to make it 3-1.
"We have to own the fact that we're whatever our record is right now, but we also can be somewhat satisfied that we are playing hard. It just hasn't gone our way," manager Kevin Cash said.
"I don't think it would be smart of me or anybody else to critique the effort when it has been good. (Tuesday) night was a quiet night for whatever reason but quiet nights don't mean there was a lack of effort. And (Wednesday) it was good; when the sixth inning came around it energized the dugout, energized the fans a little bit."
On most nights, it's going to be a challenge for the Rays offensively to overcome being outmanned. In their first 18 games, they've scored four or fewer 13 times (and winning for the first time Wednesday, second most in the league). And they have scored two or fewer an AL-high eight times.
Even worse now trying to plug a couple spots in their lineup.
"We are going to rely on all those guys that are getting these opportunities," Cash said. "Whether it's because of KK's DL stint, Matt Duffy's DL stint. Whoever it is to get in there and make the most of their chances."
It's not like they have any other choices.
Marc Topkin can be reached at email@example.com. Follow @TBTimes_Rays