BOSTON — The two runs the Rays scored before Blake Snell even took the Fenway Park mound Sunday were a somewhat uncommon occurrence.
Given how little support he has received lately and the intensity of his games, Snell welcomed the early advantage.
“Anytime you get a lead, it’s always comforting,’’ he said.
But when Snell went out and seemed headed toward giving it back, allowing the first two Red Sox batters to reach on a single and a walk, he realized it was time for a little talk to get himself settled down.
The conversation is usually brief, sometimes taking place in his head, sometimes aloud while he’s looking down so no one notices.
But the point is quite clear.
“I got mad at myself, and I started pitching,’’ Snell said. “I just told myself, ‘You’ve got to start making pitches.’ And I told myself, ‘Let’s go.’ ”
Snell got going all right, battling his way through six innings to earn his first win in more than a month as the Rays beat the Red Sox 6-1, taking three of four over the weekend, improving to 40-24 and heading home tied with the Yankees atop the AL East.
Brandon Lowe had a big hand in the win as well, knocking in the first run with the third of four straight Rays singles to open the game, and blasting two long home runs — 455 and 435 feet — to push his team-leading total to 13. Guillermo Heredia and Yandy Diaz also went deep.
As much as the Rays took out of winning the series from the Sox, and improving to 5-1 at the ballpark that calls itself America’s most beloved, getting the reigning Cy Young Award winner on a roll might prove to be a bigger takeaway.
Pitching coach Kyle Snyder sees it coming.
“I expect him to go on a pretty good run,’’ Snyder said. “He’s in a good place. His strike-throwing has improved. The swinging strikes have improved. His stuff is just as good as it’s been. It’s just a matter of getting into a little bit of a rhythm and letting the confidence build off (Sunday’s) game.’’
Don’t put all the blame on Snell for going five starts without a win, the second-longest dry spell of his career. He went into Sunday with only three wins for the season (compared to five losses, matching his total of last year), but factor in the lack of support from his teammates. They had averaged 3.41 runs per nine innings for Snell, third worst in the league. Seven times in his first 12 starts they scored one or no runs. That the Rays had gone 5-7 in his starts and 34-17 in everyone else’s seemed jarring.
Snell never threw any shade, getting frustrated only at himself, openly questioning his pitch selection, mix and sequencing. But he never brought up or even hinted at the lack of support.
Also worth noting: He insisted fewer victories wasn’t a big deal anyway because he focuses more on earned runs allowed and innings pitched.
“I don’t really look at wins-losses too heavily,’’ he said. “I’m aware of it, but I’m not like, ‘Oh my God … ’ I just focus on the next team and what I need to do to be better.’”
What worked Sunday? A combination of making big pitches when he had to and adjustments when he needed to, specifically in coming off his original plan to go heavy on fastballs, which he had been throwing notably less.
“I wanted to stay on the fastball the whole game, that’s all I cared about,’’ he said. “But when runners got into scoring position in the first, I noticed aggressive swings, so I threw more curveballs. Later in the game I started noticing they were kind of like trying to sit on the offspeed (pitches), so I threw more fastballs.’’
After allowing those first two Sox on in the first, Snell struck out the next three with curveballs. When the second inning began with two singles, he limited the damage to one run, even as his pitch count grew to 41.
“They made him work. He made himself work a little bit,’’ manager Kevin Cash said. “But Blake’s a really talented pitcher. I know we like to nitpick kind of what he does or what he doesn’t do at times, but the bottom line is he’s got really good stuff, and he’s equipped to go out there and really give us a chance to win every single time.’’
Snell made that clear in the third, when he got in a groove and got the Rays through the sixth with what was then a 4-1 lead, finishing his day allowing the one run on five hits and a walk, seven strikeouts and a season-high 105 pitches. Though it looked like he and catcher Travis d’Arnaud were having issues, Snell said he was “happy with the way we were adjusting throughout the game” and comfortable with him behind the plate.
“It was a tiring game, a lot of stressful pitches, just a lot today,’’ Snell said.
Snell is 4-5 with an ERA, inflated by a rough previous outing when he allowed six runs in Detroit, at 3.50.
“Happy with the outcome, happy we got the win,’’ Snell said. “But definitely got a lot of work to do still.’’
Next assignment, Friday against the Angels.
Contact Marc Topkin at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.