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Bloops, dribblers, bleeders and, oh yeah, a win against the Yankees

John Romano | The Rays may not have busted out of their offensive slump, but they did have a fun night.
In the boxscore, this goes down as a two-run double for the Rays' Mike Zunino in the sixth Friday. No one needs to know it had an exit velocity of less than 71 mph.
In the boxscore, this goes down as a two-run double for the Rays' Mike Zunino in the sixth Friday. No one needs to know it had an exit velocity of less than 71 mph. [ FRANK FRANKLIN II | AP ]
Published Apr. 17
Updated Apr. 17

It was a glorious victory. Well, maybe not glorious, but dang it was amusing.

Just to set the stage, the Rays had begun Friday tied with the Orioles for the worst record in the American League. And make no mistake, being compared in any way to the Orioles is infinitely worse than simply having a crappy won-loss record.

The Rays were also one RBI away from having the lowest-scoring offense in the AL and, two weeks into the season, were already plugging holes in their pitching rotation.

So, yeah, it was rip-snorting fun to beat the Yankees 8-2 Friday night. (Even if the Yankees played like Little Leaguers in the field.)

It was encouraging to finally see the bases filled with Rays. (Even if the Yankees gave up seven walks and, heaven help us, hit another Tampa Bay batter.)

It was positively life-affirming to see two Rays hitters get hits with runners in scoring position in the sixth inning. (Even if the exit velocity on those two hits was 71.9 and 70.9 mph.)

In the end, it was just good to see the Rays finally catch a few breaks.

“We kind of pieced together innings,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “Good teams take advantage of other teams’ mistakes. I felt like we did that. Whether they’re hard hit or not, at the end of the day, we just want to score as many runs that are available to us.”

So, okay, the offense is not fixed. Not by a long shot. Other than a Brandon Lowe double off the wall in the first inning, the Rays did not really punish the ball much.

But that’s okay. This slump won’t last. It can’t last. That’s a truth that can’t be ignored.

The recent scoring drought has been a function of bad timing rather than bad hitters. Yes, some guys are in deep funks. And yes, the Rays may eventually need to make a decision on how many more at-bats they’re going to give Yoshi Tsutsugo.

But the lineup is basically the same group of hitters that was in the top half of the American League in runs scored last season. Those hitters did not collectively lose their batting eye during the winter.

What’s been happening the past couple of weeks is a horrific case of failing to hit at opportune moments. And that kind of poor timing eventually works itself out during a season.

The Rays went into the game with a .211 batting average with runners in scoring position in 2021, which had them stuck in 25th in the majors. And the Yankees gifted them so many baserunners Friday night and the Rays had so much weak contact, their average with runners on second and/or third base actually dropped to .209.

Still, there were signs that the Rays may finally be returning to their normal selves. You could attribute the high number of walks to a parade of New York pitchers who lacked command, but it’s also an indicator that Tampa Bay hitters were more relaxed at the plate.

“We put ourselves in some better counts today,” Cash said. “The last couple of nights, you guys kept asking, ‘Are we pressing? Are we pressing?’ I don’t know if we’re pressing. I do know that we’ve been pitched tough and our at-bats have allowed pitchers to get in rhythm and be really efficient with us.

“Tonight, we didn’t. I think (the Yankees) had 100 pitches through four innings with the pitchers they used. That goes to show we were not giving in. We were not helping them out by expanding (the strike zone). We were making them pitch to us. When the hits needed to come, they came.”

A year ago, the Rays were in a similar funk. Through 14 games, they had a 6-8 record and had scored 56 runs. This morning, the Rays have a 6-8 record and have scored 58 runs.

You may recall, that team went on to finish with the AL’s best record in the regular season and came within two victories of winning the World Series.

Like the lineup against New York on Friday night, you just need a little patience.

John Romano can be reached at jromano@tampabay.com. Follow @romano_tbtimes.

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