SAN DIEGO — Brendan McKay felt lost and somewhat helpless on the mound in the first inning Tuesday, walking three of the first six Padres batters to match the total from his first six starts. Putting his Rays team in a hole by allowing four runs only made it worse.
"It was frustrating out there,'' the rookie lefty said. "Not being able to command the zone and be your normal self out there.''
But among his mates, there was little worry.
Coming back has been kind of their thing lately.
And so has coming out on top.
They did both on Tuesday, rallying to beat the Padres 7-5.
The win was their fifth straight, all on the roadtrip that concludes with a Wednesday matinee, and the 14th in their last 17 games. They improved to 71-50, extending their lead over the A’s in the second wild-card race to three games and moving within 1 1/2 of the Indians for the top spot. Further, they won a team-record ninth straight road game in improving to an MLB-best 40-22 away from home.
And all without anyone seeing them sweat.
"We don’t give up when we’re down,'' said shortstop Willy Adames. “It doesn’t matter how many runs. We’re always playing aggressive, trying to take advantage of any little opportunity we have. And we did it today. The offense came through to get the lead and we finished the game on top.''
Adames helped them get there, rapping three hits. As did Ji-Man Choi, who had what amounted to the biggest hit, a two-run homer that broke a 4-4 tie in the seventh to put them ahead to stay.
Five relievers pitched in after McKay, with Emilio Pagan logging a four-out save, his 13th. Rays pitchers struck out 18 overall, tying the team record for a nine-inning game. (And they actually did so in eight, since McKay didn’t have any Ks in the first.)
Manager Kevin Cash said the sense of confidence they’re playing with even when down early in a game is obvious.
"We’re not out of it. I know the guys don’t feel that way,'' he said. "They stay positive. They pick each other up. I think a lot of people would say watching us, we play nine innings. The way they’ve gone about it here lately, and certainly today coming back, that’s the sign of a really good team.''
About the only bad news of the night was that Avisail Garcia left the game feeling tightness in his right oblique during his fifth-inning at-bat, and was done after playing the field for two more innings. He said he felt “something funny” but was confident they caught it in time and expects to return to action this weekend at home against his former Tigers mates.
McKay said he took some solace in getting the Rays through the fourth without giving up anything else, finishing with six walks and seven strikeouts, throwing 83 pitches to get those 12 outs.
"One of those days where it took a while to get going,'' he said. "You want to command the zone and it feels good leaving your hand and it just doesn’t end up there. I made a lot of quality pitches when it counted, which makes you feel a little bit better.''
Choi was a bit of an unlikely offensive standout, given that he hadn’t started a game since last Wednesday, was 0-for-his-last 14 and was facing San Diego lefty Eric Lauer for starters. What happens? The lefty swinging Choi rips two doubles and the big homer, his first since July 28 and 11th overall.
"Definitely, it felt good to hit a home run,'' Choi said via team translator Ha-ram (Sam) Jeong. "It’s been a while since I felt like it went out of the ballpark as soon as I hit the ball.''
Cash said he appreciated Choi’s effort given that he hadn’t been playing much.
"He was huge,'' Cash said. "What Ji-Man’s done here the last couple days has not been easy. He’s basically an everyday player. Unfortunately with the schedule with the lefties that we faced, he’s kind of sat. Had a couple pinch-hit at-bats. He’s stayed positive. And certainly showed that he likes to play because he got in there and made the most of an opportunity. Really, really impressive what he did just driving the ball all over the ballpark and then hitting the big home run.''
The Rays also got a little help from the Padres in tying the game in the sixth.
Adames was at third after a double and an Eric Sogard ground out, and broke for home when pinch-hitter Kevin Kiermiaer tapped back to the mound. That may not have worked, but Padres reliever Craig Stammen made an extremely errant throw, allowing Adames to score.
The win was pretty much a team effort, as Cash used 12 position players (all but still-sore Tommy Pham) and six pitchers. Among the notables, Austin Meadows hit his 20th homer, Sogard extended his on-base streak to 25 games and his hit streak to 10, Nick Anderson ran his streak of consecutive batters retired to 18 (14 by strikeout) and Jose Alvarado pitched (somewhat erratically) in his first game back off the injured list.
"We’re just having fun right now,'' Adames said. "We just go every day trying to have fun. We’re trying to push for that playoff spot. And I think everybody is motivated to go to the playoffs.''
No matter how far they have to come back to get there.
Contact Marc Topkin at firstname.lastname@example.org Follow @TBTimes_Rays.