DETROIT — The Rays were coming off a couple of rough nights, losing their past two games by blowing late leads and losing rookie sensation Wander Franco for at least 2-3 weeks with a hamstring strain.
They needed a night like Saturday, beating the Tigers 7-2 with a team effort — featuring strong pitching, solid hitting, aggressive baserunning and their usual tidy fielding — to feel good about things.
And they felt best for Dietrich Enns, the 30-year-old pitcher they found somewhat serendipitously last year in an independent league. Enns worked four hitless innings Saturday for his first big-league win.
“Pretty much story of the game,’’ manager Kevin Cash said. ‘We’re all pretty excited for him’’
With the win, the Rays improved their American League-best record to 89-53 and maintained a nine-game East Division lead over the Red Sox. They also reduced to 11 their “magic numbers” to clinch both a playoff berth and the division title.
The offensive showing was a collaboration of quality at-bats, timely hitting and aggressiveness on the bases, including catcher Mike Zunino scoring from first. Joey Wendle had a triple and his 10th homer, Kevin Kiermaier had a triple and a double, and Austin Meadows had a sac fly for his 98th RBI.
“We had some big at-bats,’’ Cash said.
The only downside was starter Chris Archer, who worked three hitless innings, having to leave after the fourth due to recurrence of the left-hip discomfort that has been an issue throughout his recent return from a forearm issues in April.
Cash said they didn’t know yet if Archer, who threw 55 pitches, was headed to the injured list. The right-hander was equally unsure about his availability going forward. Archer said the discomfort occurs at different times and in levels of intensity, making it a matter of pain tolerance. His bigger concern Saturday, he said, was not hurting the team by staying in the game and pitching poorly.
“I don’t know what to anticipate,’’ he said. “It feels the same as it has after my last couple starts. The onset of the soreness just came a little bit earlier. My previous starts the soreness will come on later and later, and I was able to tolerate it all the way through.’’
Archer’s departure created the opportunity for Enns, and the lanky lefty made the best of it in his fourth callup of the season, using a powerful fastball-cutter combo to retire 12 of the 13 he faced — six on strikeouts, one reaching on an error.
“He’s been a guy that has come up here, back and forth, and just competed, pitched really well for us,’’ Cash said. “And tonight might have been the highlight.’’
Enns had made two appearances for the Twins in 2017 and since then had been in the minors and last summer an independent league, where he did double duty as pitching coach. He signed with the Rays in August 2020.
He earned his first big-league save Sept. 4 and now has a win he wondered if he would ever get. Even better, he had his parents and some Central Michigan college teammates in the Comerica Park stands and later on the field postgame to snap some photos.
“I definitely wanted to get my first one out of the way, so I was happy it came here against the Tigers,’’ he said. “I went to school not too far away from here (about 2½ hours away in Mount Pleasant), so it’s pretty cool to come back here and get a win.’’
Cooler, literally, was the clubhouse celebration that included the traditional first-win experience involving a laundry cart, the shower and cold adult beverages.
“KK did his usual thing after the game, after we win, and then all the boys said, ‘Get in the cart, get in the beer shower,’ so I definitely got that celebration treatment,’’ Enns said. “That was pretty special.’’
Rays’ magic numbers
11 To make American League playoffs.
11 To win East Division.
Combination of wins by Rays and losses by the No. 3 team in the wild-card field (Yankees/Blue Jays) and the second-place team in the division (Red Sox)
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