ANAHEIM, Calif. – The Rays posted an impressive fourth straight win Thursday, beating the powerful Angels 7-1. But, befitting the up-and-down, back-and-forth, good-and-bad nature of their eventful season, it came with a loss as shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria left in the second inning due to a right hamstring strain.
The victory was certainly a team effort, as they rapped 14 hits in improving to 20-22, including two-run homers from Denard Span and Johnny Field, and got an impressive 6-plus inning outing from Chris Archer.
But the local story line will be slanted toward C.J. Cron, who made the most of his first game back as ex-Angel, using hustle and muscle to lead the way, homering in the sixth for the game's first tally, then beating out an infield hit and stealing second to produce another run.
"It was cool," Cron said. "It definitely was cool."
In the bigger picture sense, the bigger contribution came from Archer, who allowed only two hits in posting his first scoreless outing of the season.
"He made pitches," manager Kevin Cash said. "You're going to have to wriggle out of jams when facing a lineup like this one tonight. They've put together really tough at-bats all season long. That speaks volumes to how strong Chris' performance really was."
Archer didn't get off a great start, throwing 61 pitches through the first three innings, working around a single and three walks, but not allowing any runs. And then he became more efficient and effective, throwing only 43 to get through the next 3 2/3. He did walk four and hit another, Justin Upton, who had to leave the game, through x-rays of his left hand showed no break.
A major key was having a sharp slider and making better use of it, specifically to end at-bats.
"It was a little bit of everything," Archer said. "I'd been getting hurt on some sliders that were elevated and I made a point tonight to make sure it was under the zone for the most part. And I think that really benefited the team."
It also helped that Angels star Mike Trout is in the worst skid of his career, hitless in his last 19 at-bats (though, because he's Mike Trout, he has seven walks in that stretch.)
Having spent the first four years of his career with the Angels before the February trade to the Rays, Cron received polite cheers from the crowd upon introduction before his first at-bat as a visitor.
Not so much after his third, having struck out the first two time up but then knocking a Tyler Skaggs pitch over the leftfield fence for the first run of the night, his team-high 11th homer. That not only extended Cron's streak of consecutive games reaching base to 23, but marked the second time in his career he went deep in three straight. He is the second Ray with that kind of triple play this season, as Wilson Ramos homered in three straight April 26-28.
"I saw Skaggs kind of look at me after that second strikeout," Cron said. "He gave me a little smirk so it was nice to get one back off him."
Then Cron, who is known more for flexing his muscles than being fleet, just rubbed it in. He hustled down the line to beat out an infield hit and then stole second (helped then the throw kicked away), putting himself in position to score on Daniel Robertson's single.
In between, Span launched a two-run homer, taking advantage of the lowering of the rightfield wall at Angel Stadium. The Rays added on in the eighth when Christian Arroyo, in his Rays debut, rapped his second hit of the night and Field followed with a drive to left.
"I use whatever I can use to get on," he said.
Through most of the first six weeks of the season, Archer hadn't looked like himself, or at least his stat line didn't. He went into Thursday's game 2-3 with a 5.64 ERA that was sixth highest among qualified American League pitchers, and having allowed four or more runs in a majors-high tying six starts.
But he also came in with a track record of success against the Angels, now 6-1, 2.20 in seven career starts, and, for whatever reason, pitched well again Thursday.
Span hit a two-run homer in the seventh (taking advantage of the new lower rightfield wall) and Field in the eighth as the Rays broke the game open. Reliever Austin Pruitt finished what Archer started, though he allowed two-way sensation Shohei Ohtani to homer in the ninth, snapping the Angels scoreless streak at 21 innings.
"Austin kidded around that he'd had a quiet night up until the ninth, we wanted to give the fans something and it worked out in his favor," Cash said.
The Rays consider Hechavarria day to day and Cash said they are optimistic they caught it in time to avoid a lengthy absence. Hechavarria said he won't know until he wakes up Friday how severe it is.
Marc Topkin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_Rays