MIAMI — Manager Kevin Cash is often teasing and taunting Joey Wendle, usually calling him, loudly, by a nickname, “Mendle,” that originated years ago from an erroneous MLB Network graphic.
On Friday, after Wendle played the lead role in the Rays’ dramatic 6-4 comeback win over the Marlins by hitting a three-run homer in the ninth, Cash had a new name for Wendle:
Wendle, who often brags back to Cash about his power, laughed when that was relayed to him. But did he feel like a Big Bopper after launching an Anthony Bass pitch into the rightfield seats?
“Tonight I did, yeah,’' said Wendle, who has all of 17 big-league homers in parts of five seasons. “Good to get that team win. I felt like with the pitching performances that we’ve had the first two nights, it’s almost like everybody kind of wanted to be the guy to break out of our little hitting funk there to start the season. It was good to be that guy tonight.’'
What ended up a four-run rally in the ninth capped an evolving night for Tampa Bay, which is 2-0 to start a season for just the fourth time in its 24 seasons (also 2002, 2010, 2012).
First it looked like the Rays were going to win because of Ryan Yarbrough and Austin Meadows, in a similar script to Thursday’s opener.
Like fellow long-haired starter Tyler Glasnow the day before, Yarbrough was sharp, or in Cash’s view, “outstanding,” blanking Miami into the sixth, scattering four hits.
And Meadows, as on Thursday, broke a scoreless tie with a solo homer, this time in the sixth, getting his 2021 off to a good start after a rough 2020. “It certainly seems that Austin’s in a good spot,” Cash said. “Good for him for getting some early reward for the work that he put in.”
But then, despite the lead growing to 2-0 thanks to a Manuel Margot homer, it appeared the Rays were going to lose because of their bullpen.
Chaz Roe got two quick outs in the seventh, but he allowed a triple to Jazz Chisholm and a five-pitch walk to No. 8 hitter Jorge Alfaro.
With lefty Corey Dickerson, the former Ray, pinch-hitting, Cash went for lefty Ryan Sherriff over Cody Reed and other options, and that didn’t work.
Cash said he liked the matchup, thinking Sherriff could get Dickerson to hit the ball on the ground, which he did. But he hit it down the third-base line for a run-scoring double. Sherriff then had to face righty Miguel Rojas, who laced a two-run single through the right side to put the Marlins up 3-2.
“Ryan Sheriff is just really tough on lefties,” Cash said. “Maybe not the biggest strikeout guy but gives you a chance and puts the ball on the ground, which he did.
“We know how talented Corey Dickerson is. We saw him for a year or two, just a really good bad-ball hitter, (and he) shoots a ball the other way. And then we fell behind Rojas, and Rojas is another guy that uses the whole field. Very confident and comfortable with any of the guys and certainly felt that Sherriff, it was the right matchup with Dickerson.’'
But, as they have done many times over the past several seasons, the Rays battled back, showing the resolve that has carried them to consecutive playoff berths.
Down 4-2 with one out in the ninth, Brandon Lowe, who cost the Rays an extra run in the eighth with a throwing error at second, singled. Yandy Diaz did the same. Wendle followed with his three-run homer. A Margot triple and a Francisco Mejia sac fly gave them an extra run. And Diego Castillo got through the ninth for his second save in as many games.
“Always encouraged just with the guys when (they) get down,” Cash said. “They’ve shown time and time again. It never gets old.”
Cash wasn’t done poking fun at Wendle.
“Now the ‘Bash Brothers’ have three home runs,” Cash said. “Because he always has said that him and Meadows are Bash Brothers.’’
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