NEW YORK — The Rays were asked a lot of questions leading up to Friday’s opening game of the weekend series rematch with the Yankees about their concerns over being hit by pitches and the potential for retaliation.
For the most part, they didn’t take the bait — save maybe for Willy Adames’ “Every action has a reaction’' — instead echoing manager Kevin Cash’s comments that their focus was on playing better and ending their three-game losing skid.
They addressed that, and quite well, blasting the Yankees 8-2 with some much-needed offense, a few flashy defensive plays and a stellar start by Michael Wacha, who held New York to a measly three hits.
“I think our guys are pros,’' Cash said afterward. “I thought the focus needed to be, ‘Let’s try to find a way to win a ballgame.’ It’s been a frustrating couple days at home, so to come in here against a good team, with their fans that were animated, I thought we handled things really, really well. So very encouraged with that.’'
The win improved the Rays to 6-8, halting their losing streak, improving what had been a 3-8 stretch and moving ahead of the 5-8 Yankees in the American League East. The Rays also extended their recent domination of their rabid rivals, winning 13 of the past 16 regular-season games, plus last year’s AL Division Series.
The one thing they didn’t do was get even for Brandon Lowe being hit by a Michael King pitch on the forearm in his second at-bat, which made for a Rays batter being hit in each of the four games the teams have played this year, and five total.
Cash dismissed the pitch as a cutter that got away, saying he wasn’t concerned — “not whatsoever” — that it was something more.
Lowe’s reaction at the time indicated he might have felt otherwise, as did his terse postgame reaction:
“It happened. I’m past it. It’s done.’'
Though the Yankees hit only one Ray (well two, if you count second baseman Rougned Odor’s errant throw that plunked baserunner Yandy Diaz), their fans got in on the act in the bottom of the eighth. More than a dozen (from the socially distanced crowd of 10,202) caused play to be stopped by throwing balls onto the field.
There was some concern in the Rays dugout about their players being hit, and public address announcer Paul Olden reminded the fans it was wrong to do so.
“I don’t know if it was baseball giveaway day,’' Cash said. “For whatever reason, one or two did it, and then it seemed like there were about 15 others that followed, but it had no effect.
“I have no idea what happened,’' Lowe said. “Definitely haven’t seen anything like that before.’'
Wacha showed the Rays they didn’t need to use an opener in front of him — as they were plotting had they had better bullpen depth — with a dominant outing. The right-hander mixed his four pitches to work six innings, allowing only one hit and two walks while striking out nine, one off his career high.
“The story of the night,’' Cash said.
“Everything was just dancing,’' Wacha said. “I definitely feel like that’s the best whenever I’ve got a little four-pitch mix going and landing them for strikes, going in-out on guys. It’s fun whenever everything’s working, for sure.”
The Rays bats were much livelier than they had been, scoring more than four runs for the first time in a week, though still somewhat inefficient, leaving 11 on and going 3-for-15 with runners in scoring position.
The Rays got their runs in an assortment of ways on a damp and chilly night (45 degrees at first pitch), starting with Lowe’s two-run double (on a ball he thought, and acted like, was out) in the first. They then took advantage of a messy Yankees defense that made three errors and a few other misplays, as well as their attempt to use a Rays-like opener pitching strategy.
“I really don’t see it as retaliation,’' Lowe said. “We’re going to come out, and we’re going to do our thing. If they hit us, the trend has been going the way that it’s been going. Everyone’s been writing about it and talking about it. We’re in there, we’re showing up every day to the ballpark to win a game.’'
Friday, they did.
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