If it’s possible to have to sweat out a 14-7 win on a freezing night, the Rays pretty much did it Tuesday.
Sure, by the end of the long, cold game in Kansas City they had extended their season-long win streak to five games, pushed their record to 10-8 and positioned themselves for a second straight series sweep in Wednesday’s road trip finale.
But it sure wasn’t as easy as you’d think.
“The way the game was going, that’s fair to say,” manager Kevin Cash said. “We were kind of counting pitches and innings. Until we separated right there at the end, it did feel maybe a little tighter than what was comfortable.”
Consider that the Rays’ starter, Rich Hill, couldn’t get out — actually couldn’t even get an out — in the third inning.
That they let a 5-0 second-inning lead dwindle to one by giving up four in the third, and an 11-5 margin shrink to four runs by the seventh inning.
And they had to use four relievers, including the just called-up Brent Honeywell (who lasted only 1 1/3 innings), to cover the final seven innings.
But they covered for all that and more with their biggest offensive night of the year, getting something going in just about every inning — setting season highs with runs and 17 hits — with seven players driving in runs and nine of 10 scoring.
“Just shows how good we actually are,” Brandon Lowe said. “This is a team that can do that. As much as people always want to talk about our pitching, our hitters are pretty pretty darn good, too.”
Mike Zunino, Austin Meadows and Lowe had homers; Manuel Margot and Yoshi Tsutsugo three RBIs each; Randy Arozarena, Joey Wendle and Meadows three hits apiece.
“This isn’t the ideal weather to hit in, that’s for sure,” Cash said. “I think our guys coming in after (Monday) night’s game, if we would have bet that we were going to come out and do that some people would have been scratching their heads. But we needed it. …
“There was just a lot to really like about the offense from start to finish.”
Plus, for the second straight night, they took advantage of an assortment of misplays and missed plays by the Royals on a night with a 43-degree, first-pitch temperature.
The Rays got a run in the first inning and four in the second, and Hill seemed in good shape to make it stand up. He zipped through the first inning on seven pitches and the second on 13, retiring all six Royals he faced.
But he quickly made a mess, then a disappointing exit, in the third, letting a 5-0 lead nearly get away as the Royals scored four. A leadoff walk and an errant throw after fielding a bunt were the start, then a two-run single by No. 9 hitter Nicky Lopez and back-to-back doubles by Whit Merrifield and Carlos Santana the end.
Andrew Kittredge took over for Hill with the lead down to 5-4 and the tying run on second, retiring the Nos. 3-5 hitters — Salvador Perez, Jorge Soler and Hanser Alberto — for the win (awarded by the official scorer) and the biggest outs of the night.
“Without a doubt,” Cash said. “He was huge for us, ready to go.”
Hill has now made four starts for the Rays and allowed four runs in each, working a total of 16 1/3 innings, allowing the 16 runs on 20 hits (including four homers) and five walks, for an 0-1, 8.82 record.
Cash said the trouble started with the leadoff walk and gave the Royals some credit.
“Rich is a veteran guy, really good, successful, he would be the first to say you just don’t want to put yourself in a spot with a five-run lead with a lead-off walk,” Cash said. “And I think they did a good job of making adjustments on him.”
Honeywell, called up to replace the injured Cody Reed, made his second big-league appearance. His velocity was down a bit from his debut, but Cash said he was fine. Same with Kevin Kiermaier, who came out of the game because the Rays had a reasonable lead.
Cash said the five straight wins were rewarding, especially coming off three straight losses at home.
“We’re playing good,” he said. “We’re pitching well, the offense is getting timely hits, the defense has been outstanding and we’re winning games like we think we’re capable of. So it is very encouraging.
“To go on this road series, tough trip, Kansas City, to my knowledge, hadn’t lost a series yet. We know what New York is, and how talented that lineup is. To go through there and, we’ve got one game left, but we’ve got to be pleased with the way we’re playing, and we are.”
Though Tuesday, even after scoring three in the ninth, the Rays couldn’t be sure until Lowe squeezed the final out.
“I swear it felt like every time that we put up a couple of runs, they were putting guys on,” he said. “They’re a really good team, they really showed it. We had to stay locked in and stay focused for nine.”
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