ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays relieved some pressure, at least temporarily, with Sunday afternoon’s slump-busting 5-4 victory against the Houston Astros in front of 6,933 fans at Tropicana Field.
After being jump-started by a tying three-run homer from Austin Meadows in the fifth inning, the Rays avoided a sweep and broke a three-game losing streak — along with some of their offensive woes — as they head to the West Coast for a seven-game road trip with a tiny bit of momentum.
“It wasn’t a ton of runs but it was a really nice job by the entire offense (because) I felt like we were putting the pressure on them,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “We’ll take anything the way it has been going.
“Good offenses take advantage of whatever is presented on that given day. If it’s a walk, a hit by pitch or taking advantage of a defensive miscue, somehow you find a way to capitalize on that. We’ve got to be encouraged we were able to salvage a little bit of a homestand. We’re not pleased with the way we performed here at home, but we’ll definitely get on the flight feeling better after the win.”
The Rays (4-6 on the homestand) surged ahead 5-4 in the seventh inning on a pinch-hit RBI single by Manuel Margot, who put it through an opening on the right side. The opportunity began after Meadows was hit on the hand by Astros left-hander Brooks Raley (X-rays were negative). Then pinch-hitter Yandy Diaz worked an 11-pitch at-bat to produce an infield single and that set up Margot’s winner. On Diaz’s hit, Astros third baseman Alex Bregman committed a throwing error, allowing Meadows to take third.
Meadows scored the winning run as a baserunner, but his biggest moment came on the homer.
Heading to the bottom of the fifth inning, the Rays trailed 3-0. They had gone 0-for-4 with runners in scoring position (making it 3-for-their-last 59 in that category).
Then the Rays awoke.
With Yoshi Tsutsugo drawing a leadoff walk, then Randy Arozarena getting hit by a pitch with two outs, Meadows had his opportunity. He made it count by launching a tying three-run homer, a blast of fresh air that prompted an almost audible exhale from the Rays dugout.
“I think it was the spark we needed, obviously, with us being down 3-0 and not getting much going,” Meadows said. “We’ve been grinding it out the last few days, scratching and clawing to score runs any way we could.”
Margot’s hit came with runners on first and third with one out in the seventh. Margot, batting for Brandon Lowe, fouled off two pitches to fall behind, then found a hole in the Astros’ defense.
“I had been on the bench and they had warned me that I might have opportunity to hit,” Margot said. “When the time came, I was ready. I was prepared.”
Margot stayed in the game to play leftfield. Leading off the eighth inning, Houston’s Yordan Alvarez lifted a high fly ball that would have just cleared the Trop’s short leftfield fence by the foul pole, but Margot drifted and leaned over to pull it back, robbing Alvarez.
The Rays’ bullpen closed it down. Right-hander Diego Castillo, the sixth Rays pitcher, earned the save while also making it mildly interesting. He surrendered a two-out, two-strike double to pinch-hitter Jason Castro, then got Jose Altuve on a game-ending grounder.
The Rays set up the winning sequence by tying it 4-4 in the sixth. Kevin Kiermaier smacked a one-out ground-rule double, then went to third on a wild pitch by reliever Bryan Abreu. With the infield playing in, Willy Adames hit an excuse-me check-swing bouncer to first baseman Yuli Gurriel who went to the plate for Kiermaier. But Gurriel’s wide throw was booted by catcher Martin Maldonado. Kiermaier slid in with the tying run.
“We played a good half-game and then things kind of imploded,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “With a good throw (to the plate in the sixth)m we had him (Kiermaier). Even with the high throw, we had him, but that’s a tough throw to handle.”
The Rays took advantage — as they did from Meadows’ home run to game’s end. The homestand was largely marked by the recipe for losing. Sunday, the Rays found a way to win.