ST. PETERSBURG — Everything was clicking for the Rays. The good vibrations showed up everywhere in Thursday afternoon’s 7-2 victory against the Royals at Tropicana Field.
There was productive offense, especially from cleanup batter Austin Meadows, who had a triple, home run and four RBIs in the first three innings.
There was flawless defense. The Rays have made just one error in the past seven games.
Most of all, there was efficient pitching. Left-hander Shane McClanahan (2-0), the rookie from USF, allowed just three hits in five innings, walking none and striking out six.
McClanahan, who never faced a runner in scoring position, threw first-pitch strikes to 13 of his 17 batters. He went to ball three just once — and Kelvin Gutierrez grounded out on a 3-1 pitch.
“He looks extremely confident and he should be with the results and the way he has performed,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “He’s making it look easier than it is and it’s not (easy). The way he’s putting it together is really special.”
The Rays (32-20), at a season-high 12 games over .500, have been special overall. During a 13-1 stretch, they have outscored opponents 105-48 and hit .331 with runners in scoring position. They have captured four consecutive series (the Royals won in Tuesday’s series opener to halt an 11-game win streak, the second-longest in franchise history).
“Things are clicking on both sides,” Meadows said. “We’re starting to relax a little bit. It doesn’t feel like there’s much pressure we’re putting on ourselves as a team. Going back to last year, being on that streak and continuing it into the postseason, it feels like that same vibe now.
“You’re going to have ups and downs in this game, but things are clicking on all cylinders for us right now. We’re just trying to ride that high as long as we can. If we keep doing that, we have a chance to win each and every night.”
Along with the hitting, Rays pitching has been equally spectacular. In the three-game series against the Royals, the Rays walked just three and struck out 36 (the starters walked two with 30 strikeouts). McClanahan’s outing was the 17th time this season for a Rays starter to throw five innings or more and allow one run or fewer.
McClanahan set a favorable tone.
“Me and (Rays pitching coach Kyle) Snyder talked about it,” McClanahan said. “We have this mantra — sprint to two strikes. Get ahead early. Get ahead, get ahead, get ahead.
“Good things happen when you throw strikes. I’ve kind of just adopted that mantra of just attack early and let them see if they can hit the ball.”
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McClanahan didn’t need much support, but it was provided by Meadows.
After Brandon Lowe was hit by a first-inning pitch and Ji-Man Choi walked, Meadows delivered a two-run triple to the rightfield gap for a 2-0 advantage. In the third, Meadows blasted a two-run homer to right for a 5-0 lead. It was Meadows’ 10th homer, one behind team-leader Mike Zunino.
When Joey Wendle followed with a double and was driven home by Taylor Walls’ RBI single, it finished off Royals right-hander Brady Singer (2-4), the former University of Florida standout, who surrendered six earned runs in 2 2/3 innings.
The Rays extended the lead to 7-0 in the fourth on singles by Kevin Kiermaier and Brett Phillips, then a sacrifice fly by Randy Arozarena.
The Royals got on the board with Ryan O’Hearn’s two-run homer off right-hander Michael Wacha in the sixth. Wacha pitched three innings and Collin McHugh finished in the ninth.
As usual, many Rays contributed. But McClanahan and Meadows were the true difference-makers. Cash said Meadows, who has 24 RBIs in his last 22 games, was hitting in bad luck recently. But those hard-hit balls are starting to fall.
“He has been smoking balls right at people,” Cash said. “We were all happy to see him finally hit a hole, find a gap and hit one over the wall. He picked us up in a big way and set a tone really early.
“We’re on a good run right now. They don’t take it for granted. They’ve got to come to the park and work and perform. Fortunately, we’ve got a group of guys who take that mindset every day. It’s a good feeling.”
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