MINNEAPOLIS — It was more than five hours into Thursday’s marathon against the Twins when the Rays’ Yandy Diaz lofted a fly ball to leftfield.
About two hours earlier, in the 10th inning, the Rays had come away from a no-out, bases-loaded situation with nothing. Scoring opportunities were scant all day, so there was no question that Brandon Lowe, the runner at third in the 18th inning, was going to test Luis Arraez’s arm.
Leaning against the third-base dugout rail, Rays players made sure Lowe had no doubt either.
“As soon as that ball left Yandy’s bat, the whole dugout yelled at him to tag, so he was tagging,” manager Kevin Cash said.
Said Lowe: “I’m kind of glad (third-base coach Rodney Linares) said ‘Go’ because I’m not sure if I could’ve stopped myself from going. It’s just that kind of situation where I wanted to test him.”
The Twins left fielder’s throw was just up the first-base line, and Lowe’s left hand swept by the plate before catcher Jason Castro could reach across to make the tag.
The Rays tacked on two runs, eventually ending the 5-hour, 42-minute game with a 5-2 victory against the team with the AL’s best record. The Rays went 15 innings between scoring runs — managing just two hits over that stretch.
The 18 innings matched the longest game in Rays history. They beat the Orioles 5-4 in 18 on Sept. 20, 2013, at Tropicana Field.
“It was the motto (Thursday): If we’re going to play this long of a game, we’re going to win the game,” winning pitcher Ryan Yarbrough said, “especially like that. It wasn’t the road trip we wanted, but to end it on this note and get into a home stand right before the All-Star break, hopefully it can give us a little jump start and put us on a good note before we head into the break.”
The Rays (46-35) avoided being swept by the Twins but finished their three-city road trip to New York, Oakland and Minnesota with a 3-7 record. They have lost 11 of 16 and are 11-15 in June.
“We’re right at the halfway point,” Cash said. “We’re in a lot of ball games. It hasn’t felt that way here as of late, but if you look at the big picture and our record, (the bullpen is in) a lot tight games that they just have to be pitching in, and today they kind of showed that comfort again.”
The Rays used nearly every available arm. The eight relievers who followed opener Ryne Stanek combined to throw 16 scoreless innings Thursday, allowing just six hits while striking out 19.
Yarbrough, previously scheduled to pitch Saturday, had retreated to the clubhouse to put his game cleats on in the 11th and finished the game with three scoreless innings for the win. Right-hander Yonny Chirinos, slated to start tonight, was in the bullpen as the last available pitcher.
“This is the moment we’ll look back in September and we’ll get really pumped if we turn things around, and hopefully it just carries us,” said left-hander Adam Kolarek, who threw three scoreless innings. “It will be the moment we look back on and be like, ‘Hey, that was the turning point.’ The confidence never wavered in any of us. We all just feed off each other.”
The Rays used all 13 position players in the most innings played in Target Field’s 10-season history. When Yarbrough entered in the 16th, he was their 22nd player, matching the most the team had used in a game since July 3, 2018.
The 22 strikeouts by Rays pitchers was a new club record, bettering 21 in a 15-inning game against Oakland on July 30, 2012.
The Rays loaded the bases with no outs in the 10th but couldn’t score, in part because of Ji-Man Choi’s base-running blunder on Joey Wendle’s line-drive single.
Choi had walked, and Austin Meadows singled. When Wendle rocketed a ball to the right field warning track that Jake Cave couldn’t come up with, Choi initially retreated to second. Clogging the bases for the runners behind him, Choi was unable to score.
Still, the Rays had three opportunities go ahead and couldn’t score. Tommy Pham was robbed on a diving play by third baseman Miguel Sano to end the inning.
After Jalen Beeks’ 3⅓ scoreless innings, Chaz Roe entered in the sixth with runners at the corners and one out. It took him just two pitches to escape, inducing a 6-4-3 double-play ball from Jonathan Schoop to end the inning.
Lefty Colin Poche retired all four hitters he faced, and right-hander Andrew Kittredge retired five of the six he faced.
Oliver Drake then retired all six he faced in the 10th and 11th, recording four strikeouts. Emilio Pagan struck out the side in the 12th, working around a two-out walk. After giving up a ground-rule double, Kolarek escaped the 13th by getting a 4-6-3 double-play ball.
“Those are the kind of bullpen moments where we feed off each other,” Kolarek said. “We’re a really tight group of not just teammates, but friends. We root for each other so hard. As each inning passed and each pitcher went in, it was just like you want to keep the good outcomes coming.”
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at email@example.com. Follow @EddieInTheYard.