ST. PETERSBURG — With the confidence the Rays have when LHP Blake Snell takes the mound, they feel pretty good about their chances if they can scratch out a few runs and catch the ball behind him.
That strategy worked out just right in Wednesday's 3-1 victory in a second straight series win over the AL Central-leading Indians.
Ji-Man Choi hit a two-run homer in the first, important though not quite as entertaining of a trip around the bases as Monday's walkoff, and rookie 2B Brandon Lowe tripled and scored on a searing sacrifice line drive by Kevin Kiermaier to deliver the runs.
The defense was, as usual, solid, with 3B Joey Wendle and Lowe turning a double play that mattered most as RHP Chaz Roe got the Rays out of the eighth by getting dangerous Josh Donaldson to hit a ground ball.
And the pitching? Well, Snell was nearly perfect, allowing just two walks and one hit (albeit a Jose Ramirez home run) over seven strong innings to log his majors-most 19th win, with Roe and LHP Jose Alvarado finishing.
The win was the Rays' 80th of the season, notable in several ways.
It pushed them back to 15 games over .500, matching their season high, on what has been an 18-4 run; kept alive their long shot chances of snatching the second AL wild card from the A's, who after another win in Baltimore on Wednesday are 8½ games ahead and come to the Trop this weekend; and positioned them, with two more victories, to post their first winning record since 2013 when Joe Maddon was the manager, and with at least 10 in their final 17 games get to 90 W's.
"You hope that we're learning a lot about ourselves right now,'' manager Kevin Cash said. "Bring some excitement to the rest of this year and going into the offseason. Getting to watch this from a really good seat, it's pretty exciting. I hope it's exciting for our fans. Because these guys, they come every day, they bring a lot of effort, they're fun to watch and they're very talented.''
Ji-Man the man
Ji-Man Choi has quietly — well, not all that quietly — become one of the Rays' most productive hitters, with three homers in his past five games and seven since his July 11 callup, second most on the team. Choi, 27, said Wednesday — through his Korean telephone interpreter — that he was excited to help the cause. "Every at-bat where you can hit a home run, you feel great,'' he said. "Especially tonight, helping contribute to a bring a win for Snell. He's racing for the Cy Young Award, so I hope he gets it at the end of the season. I feel great in how I helped to bring him the win."
CF Kiermaier eagerly returned to the lineup and delivered a triple and a sac fly, though he didn't want to provide details of the "general illness" (team's words) that kept him out for two games. Kiermaier said "it was a tough couple days for me," and that he had felt that bad before but "time and rest have helped." … 3B Matt Duffy (back) was out of the lineup for a third straight day but available off the bench, aiming to start Friday. … C Michael Perez (hamstring) is making slow progress. Cash acknowledged it was not definite if Perez will make it back by season's end. … RHP Wilmer Font (lat strain) confirmed he won't pitch again this season, planning to spend the winter rehabbing.
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Number of the day
33 Steals by Mallex Smith, after two Wednesday, second to AL leader Whit Merrifield of Kansas City, who was at 35 and counting late Wednesday.
Triple-A Durham evened its best-of-five International League championship series with a 5-2 win at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (Yankees). RHP Austin Pruitt had six scoreless innings. RHP Chih-Wei Hu starts Game 3 tonight. … Class A Bowling Green opened its best-of-five Midwest League championship series with a 4-0 win at Peoria (Cardinals) behind a strong start by RHP Tobias Myers.
• OF Tommy Pham extended his career-high hitting streak to 16 games, three shy of Jason Bartlett's team record.
• The Rays are 46-25 at the Trop, winning 13 of their past 14.
• At 2 hours, 20 minutes, Wednesday's game was the shortest at the Trop since 2015. Attendance was 10,654.
• RHP Diego Castillo is scheduled to be the opener Friday against the A's, with LHP Ryan Yarbrough slated to work the bulk of the innings.