SAN DIEGO — Pitchers provided a couple of the more memorable moments at the plate for the Rays in Monday night’s 10-4 win over the Padres.
Jalen Beeks pinch-hit, and we use that word loosely, for opener Diego Castillo in the second inning, and struck out looking. And Oliver Drake delivered the first hit of his big-league career with a run scoring single in the eighth.
The real hitters did their part, too, as the Rays won for the fourth straight time, and 13th in their last 16 games.
Matt Duffy had the most productive night, reaching base a career-high five times thanks to a walk and a personal-best matching four hits. He also made two errors.
And Avisail Garcia had the most powerful showing, scorching a two-run homer, a single and a double.
"Encouraged by the overall offense,'' manager Kevin Cash said. "We had some good at-bats today.''
The Rays improved to 70-50, marking their first time 20 games over .500 since the end of the 2013 season, which was the last time the Rays made the playoffs.
If you’re into these kind of things, the Rays reached 20 games over in three previous seasons, and made the playoffs each of those years — 2008, 2010, 2011.
"That’s cool,'' Cash said. "That’s great. Let’s get to 21 tomorrow.''
There’s also this: Since the second wild card and the play-in game were introduced in 2012 all 27 teams that won at least 70 of their first 120 games made it to postseason play.
They also tied a team record by winning their eighth straight on the road, as part of their MLB best 39-22 road mark.
"I think we’re clicking on all the right cylinders in a good stretch, an important stretch,'' Duffy said. "A lot of positive things happening right now.''
As a result, the Rays extended their lead over Oakland for the second AL wild card to two games and closed the gap on the wild-card leading Twins to two games.
"You’ve got to be happy, we won four in a row,'' Cash said.
Kevin Kiermaier also was part of the story, with a long run and then a leaping catch at the wall to rob Francisco Mejia of a home run in the eighth. Kiermaier was down for a moment after the catch as the Rays athletic training staff seemed ready to mobilize, but walked off and seemed okay.
"Outstanding, but we’ve seen a lot of them,'' Cash said. "He kind of came out of nowhere and grabbed it. I’m sure he’s a little sore and banged up, but he’s not hurt. He was able to get off the field. Just a highlight reel play that we’ll see over and over tomorrow watching TV.''
Kiermaier said he felt “okay” but thought he may have hit his head on the wall and may have "a little bit of whiplash.''
He said the catch ranked among his best.
"It’s another notch in the belt,'' he said. "The degree of difficulty that was really tough. The play was pretty quick to me to be honest. Very happy to see it go in my glove. ...
"I always say if you want this elite reputation you’ve got to make elite plays. And I think that was an elite play. Still always trying to make a case that I just don’t think anyone else can do what I can do out there.''
Shortstop Willy Adames, excited for the first chance to play with Padres star Fernando Tatis Jr., also was sharp in the field.
Austin Pruitt worked four innings for the Rays for the win after Castillo opened. Chaz Roe, Drake and Andrew Kittredge finished.
Duffy, using a borrowed Austin Meadows bat and getting some advice from Jesus Aguilar hitting two spots ahead of him, walked his first time up and singled the next four. He what Cash said was the biggest hit, singling in two runs in the seventh to extend their lead from 4-2 to 6-2.
"I’m still trying to find my rhythm a little bit in certain aspects of the game, but that’s going to come,'' Duffy said. "Definitely a step in the right direction offensively.''
Beeks said he didn’t know ahead of him time he’d be used to hit, but had no problem getting ready, though found the left-on-left matchup even more challenging. With Tommy Pham sidelined with a sore hand Cash didn’t want to burn a position player to hit with two outs and no one on, and said he didn’t think Castillo, who had an at-bat earlier this season, wanted to get anywhere near the plate so he picked Beeks.
Drake, who had one previous at-bat in the majors (in 2016, also in San Diego), singled to center with two outs in the eighth, knocking in his first run as well. "It was very cool,'' Drake said. "Getting a knock in the big leagues is pretty sweet.''
Drake got sick after the seventh and almost couldn’t come back out to pitch the eighth. "it was a little something but it wasn’t a big deal,'' he said.
The Rays were playing at Petco Park for the first time since 2004, their only previous visit to San Diego. They swept that series under manager Lou Piniella in the first season at the picturesque stadium near the waterfront with a team that included Fred McGriff, Carl Crawford, Rocco Baldelli and a reserve named Jose Bautista.
The series continues Tuesday night with Rays two-way player Brendan McKay starting on the mound and getting to hit in the same game for the first time since his days at Louisville. Lefty Eric Lauer is starting for the Padres.
Contact Marc Topkin at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.