ST. PETERSBURG — If one of the top five teams in the majors wins its fourth straight to get to a season-high 14 games over .500 and back within one of first place and hardly anyone is there to see it, it still counts, right?
That’s what happened to the Rays on Tuesday, who turned in another entertaining performance to beat the Blue Jays 3-1 in front of a gathering, if you can even call it that, of 5,786, the smallest ever for a Rays game in 22 seasons at Tropicana Field. It also was the lowest in the majors this season.
For those who didn’t have reason not to come, and all those who watched along with Dewayne and Doug, or listened to Dave and Andy, it was a pretty good show.
Avisail Garcia raced around the bases for the first inside-the-park homer of his career, and formally introduced the team’s latest celebration gesture, a two-fingered high-five that means “unbelievable.’’
Ryne Stanek opened and Ryan Yarbrough bulked in yet another dominant pitching performance, as five pitchers combined to come up just shy of another shutout.
Austin – or, as some are now calling him, Awesome - Meadows continued his torrid streak, with a homer in his third straight game and his team-high 12th overall.
And they played some solid defense in improving to 33-19.
“Everything is kind of clicking,’’ Stanek said.
Batting leadoff for the second time in a week, for reasons no more complex than manager Kevin Cash said wanting to get him to the plate as many times as possible against a lefty starter, Garcia fully embraced the role.
He got the Rays going in the first with a leadoff single and came around to score, but his starring role came in the third, with a supporting actor nod to Toronto rightfielder Randal Grichuk.
Garcia hit what looked to be a routine fly to right, putting his head down and throwing his bat in frustration. But Grichuk lost the ball in the Trop roof and magnified the error by coming in, then not running hard as the ball landed about 30 feet behind him and bounced to the wall.
“I was standing at the plate because I missed that pitch and I heard my teammates yelling, “Run! Run! He lost it!” So I started running hard,’’ Garcia said.
It took him, per Statcast, 6.24 seconds to get from home to first, then 10.45 seconds to make the rest of trip, surprised a bit to be waved home by third-base coach Rodney Linares.
“You’ve to got take whatever they give you,’’ Garcia said. “It was a great moment. I’m not going to forget that.’’
Garcia slid in with his left hand across the plate, then sat up and clapped his hands before heading to the dugout, where the two-finger gesture, in shape of a V or maybe a U, was on full display.
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“It’s “Unbelievable,’ ‘’ he said. “It’s a high five but with two fingers. It’s my handshake for everybody.’’
The inside-the-park homer created some excitement, and a few notes. It was the first of Garcia’s eight-year big-league career. The second by a Rays player this season, actually within a week, as Kevin Kiermaier had one Thursday night in Cleveland. The first at Tropicana Field since Boston’s Eduardo Nunez had one on opening day 2018. And the first by a Ray at the Trop since David DeJesus on Sept. 7, 2014.
Stanek gave them two innings as the opener, then Yarbrough had a second solid outing since his return from Durham in working 3 2/3, allowing two hits and getting out of the one jam he created.
"He’s throwing more strikes. He’s controlling the count better. Stuff appears to be the same,'' Cash said. "Yarbs does a good job. He goes out and competes and I think when he gets in those situations like he did in the fourth inning with (runners on) second and third, he has that knack to really put the blinders on and focus on what he’s trying to do. He made some big pitches.”
The combination of Chaz Roe, Emilio Pagan and Diego Castillo taking it from there, Castillo allowing a run in the ninth. In his two games following the month-long exile to Durham, Yarbrough is 2-0 with a 0.82 ERA, allowing two runs over 11 innings.
"I feel like the confidence is doing really well,'' Yarbrough said. "It’s something where I’ve got the timing and rhythm down so well right now, I know exactly where everything is going. When you kind of know what you’re doing and where the ball is going to end up, it’s definitely a good feeling. And it builds a lot of confidence after a couple good outings like tonight.''
The Rays have had their issues drawing fans this year like many others, but they never had a crowd this small, even less on Tuesday than the cross-state Marlins, who packed in 6,407 to see the Giants. The Rays previous record was 6,509 for a Sept. 5, 2017 game with Hurricane Irma approaching.
“I definitely noticed it,’’ Stanek said. “I noticed it during the anthem. I was like, Oh, it’s still early, maybe people are still going to file in. I didn’t know that (it was the smallest ever).
“It’s tough, especially when we’re playing well and we’re playing a fun brand of baseball and it’s fun to watch. We don’t play boring games. We don’t play sloppy. That’s tough.’’
Contact Marc Topkin at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.