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What panic? Rays’ bats turn hot in blasting Yankees

Just as hitting coach Chad Mottola said before the game, everything was going to be just fine.
The Rays' Randy Arozarena celebrates his three-run home run off Yankees starting pitcher Michael King during the sixth inning Thursday at Tropicana Field.
The Rays' Randy Arozarena celebrates his three-run home run off Yankees starting pitcher Michael King during the sixth inning Thursday at Tropicana Field. [ CHRIS O'MEARA | Associated Press ]
Published May 14
Updated May 14

ST. PETERSBURG — Hitting coach Chad Mottola insisted before Thursday’s game there was no reason to panic about the Rays’ often impotent offense, that a lot of lot of work was being done to address their assorted issues and he remained fully confident that in time they would be fine.

A few hours later, the boys in light blue made him look like a wise man — or at least a less stressed one — scoring more runs than they had in three-plus weeks, beating the Yankees 9-1.

Yandy Diaz had a two-run single, Randy Arozarena a three-run home run, and Austin Meadows a two-run homer and a two-run double as the Rays (20-19) had a rare night with an easy win, and the smiles in the dugout to show for it.

“Very encouraged, and good for those guys,” manager Kevin Cash said. “They’ve been wearing it and grinding through it. They deserve to have a night like this and feel a little bit better about themselves.”

Austin Meadows watches his double off Yankees starting pitcher Jameson Taillon during the fifth inning.
Austin Meadows watches his double off Yankees starting pitcher Jameson Taillon during the fifth inning. [ CHRIS O'MEARA | Associated Press ]

The offense was the show, but the Rays also played some dazzling defense, with Joey Wendle and Diaz making key plays. And they got a dominating pitching performance from starter Rich Hill, who worked 6 2/3 shutout innings, allowing only three hits and striking out nine, logging a career-high 19 swing and misses with an assortment of pitches that ranged from 91 to 67 mph.

“He’s been on a really good run,” Cash said. “He’s had good rhythm. You see him change his delivery a little bit at times. He’s got a good feel for what he’s doing, and he’s pitching to all quadrants of the strike zone. A very challenging lineup to go in and shut down.”

Hill, who now has a 17 2/3-inning scoreless streak, said he really hasn’t changed much since earlier in the season: “It’s not so much the ball’s coming out any differently. It’s just making better pitches in certain counts.”

The Rays had scored only one run in losing the first two games of the series to the Yankees, five total in their previous three games and nine over five. They hadn’t scored as many as nine in a game since April 20, winning at Kansas City 14-7.

Despite Mottola’s pre-game assurances, the offensive numbers were fairly concerning, as they went into play ranked ninth in the American League in runs (154), 11th in homers (38), 12th in average (.217) and last in hitting with runners in scoring position (.197). Also, they led the majors in strikeouts (397).

It helped Thursday that they were facing the more hittable Jameson Taillon after being shut down and shut out Wednesday by ace Gerrit Cole. And that they got off to a good start.

Meadows, though he struck out for the second out in the first inning, played a role working a 10-pitch at-bat. Quickly afterward, Manuel Margot singled, Brandon Lowe doubled and Diaz laced his two-run single.

“(Wednesday) not getting any runs … being able to respond and get those two runs on the board was huge,” Meadows said. “We just kind of kept going from there and it turned out to be really good.”

The Rays' Yandy Diaz lines a two-run single off Yankees starting pitcher Jameson Taillon during the first inning.
The Rays' Yandy Diaz lines a two-run single off Yankees starting pitcher Jameson Taillon during the first inning. [ CHRIS O'MEARA | Associated Press ]

They made it 4-0 in the third when Arozarena led off with a walk and Meadows delivered his team-leading eighth homer. He said that was the best part of his three extra-base hit night, though the results of a post-game fishing trip with his wife, Alexis, could change that.

They made it 7-0 in the sixth when Arozarena laced a pitch into the leftfield seats, pounding his chest and tossing his bat, marking his first homer since April 23 and fourth overall. It also was his seventh homer, regular and postseason, against the Yankees since his Aug. 30, 2020, Rays debut.

Meadows doubled in two more in the eighth, as all the Rays — including Mottola and assistant hitting coach Ozzie Timmons — went home happy.

“We’re all happy for the hitters,” Cash said. “But we’re happy for Motor and Ozzie as well. Those guys, we’ve said, they work really hard. And this can be taxing, this stretch that we’ve been in. It is nice that we can all feel pretty good about ourselves, and our offense looked really good.”

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