ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays offense was sluggish against Andrew Heaney and the Angels on Friday, and the southpaw shut out Tampa Bay through his first five innings of work. Austin Meadows, hitless in his previous 14 at-bats, stepped up to the plate to lead off the sixth inning.
The outfielder ripped a double down the rightfield line to break his hitless streak and revive the Tampa Bay offense. A parade of Rays followed Meadows around the base paths as Yandy Diaz, Ji-Man Choi, Kevin Kiermaier, Guillermo Heredia, Avisaíl García and Tommy Pham reached base.
The five-run sixth inning for Tampa Bay turned Friday night on its head. A team that collected only one hit through five innings suddenly had the lead for good. After the 9-4 victory, the Rays breathed a sigh of relief.
“Half of this game and then the last three, we’ve been out-pitched, out-hit and I think that everyone else would agree with me saying that,” Kiermaier said. “For us to have those huge two innings was our best two innings of the year.”
The centerfielder took things a step farther, saying that Friday’s outcome has a big impact on the clubhouse.
“It’s the best win of the season, easily,” Kiermaier said.
The Rays have struggled to convert hits into runs on the current homestand. On Thursday, the Rays turned 10 hits into only three runs. Wednesday produced similar results as 12 hits resulted in two Tampa Bay runs.
All the hits came at once for the Rays on Friday night. Outfielder Tommy Pham singled home the go-ahead run for Tampa Bay.
“It was huge,” Pham said of the five-run sixth inning. “This might be our best win of the year.”
The best win of the year, a win that put the brakes on a three-game losing streak, rolls right into a Charlie Morton start this afternoon.
In 14 starts, Morton owns a 2.10 ERA while collecting an undefeated 8-0 record. He surrendered only two hits across seven innings of work in his last outing. The 35-year-old pitcher leads the Rays with 2.7 Wins Above Replacement, per Baseball Reference.
Before the game Friday, Morton said that he has been cognizant of getting ahead of batters.
“I’m trying to be more aggressive early in counts, and whether that’s with a fastball or a curveball, it’s working ahead.”
Meadows, who started the turnaround with his sixth-inning double, said that the momentum from Friday night can carry right into the Saturday matinee.
“That’s probably one of the better games of the year we’ve had, being able to get those rallies and build some momentum into the next day,” Meadows said. “We can’t wait. Morton is nasty.”