Eventually, you gotta figure the rest of baseball will grow weary of these Rays. Maybe even resentful.
It’s one thing for a team of low-paid, unheralded players to shock the world with a 96-win season. And maybe it was endearing to see Tampa Bay come back and dominate the American League and reach Game 6 of the World Series the following season.
But these guys aren’t going away. They haven’t gotten the message that their time in the spotlight was supposed to fade as they shed players and salaries in the offseason. This team keeps winning in what must be infuriating ways to the rest of the baseball-watching country.
Take Sunday’s 7-1 victory against Texas.
The Rays got 2.2 shaky innings out of starting pitcher Michael Wacha, then a procession of five relievers kept putting zeroes on the board. The Rays put Kevin Kiermaier in late and he delivered a sliding catch with a runner on third to keep the score 1-0, they used every hitter on the bench and scored the tying run in the eighth on an error, an infield single and a pair of eight-pitch walks to Mike Brosseau and Yandy Diaz.
Then the big blow was delivered by that rookie shortstop everyone was dying to see. No, not that one. The other one.
Taylor Walls, the 24-year-old who is keeping 20-year-old Wander Franco at bay in Triple-A, had three hits Sunday, including a bases-loaded double that drove in the go-ahead run.
“The best version of us is using our entire roster,” manager Kevin Cash said. “You’re not going to have a bullpen day every day, but the way it was drawn up, it couldn’t have been any better. They were lights out. Set up well for each other, and the way the lineup was staggered.
“Everybody on the bench played a role. (Mike Zunino) comes up in big situation, didn’t get it done, but we use our bench and, more times than not, they find ways to get it done. (Brosseau) has big at-bats, and (Kiermaier’s) play was massive at that time.”
In his first 15 big-league games, Walls is hitting .262 with four doubles, four RBI and a .380 on-base percentage. Even more impressively, he’s making adjustments on the fly, figuring out the fine line between being selective without losing his aggressiveness. Two of his hits against the Rangers were in 1-2 and 2-2 counts.
“I know it’s hard to hit with two strikes, trust me I’ve seen the numbers,” Walls said. “My approach is I have to be very confident when I get up there. If I come to the plate worried about trying not to get two strikes, I might expand my zone early in the count and have weak contact. I’m going up there with a focused plan on what I’m trying to attack, and what I’m looking for.
“That was part of the adjustment I made from last series to this series, was being more aggressive in the zone. Even though it might not be the exact pitch I’m looking for, if I see it in the zone I’m looking to attack it.”
The Rays even got their own version of comic relief when the muscular Diaz barely cleared the leftfield fence in the ninth inning for his first home run since Aug. 21. Diaz pointed at the dugout after the ball landed in the Rays bullpen, explaining that his teammates had been abusing him in recent weeks.
“Yes, of course, everybody has been waiting for it,” he said via interpreter Manny Navarro. “Thank God I got the first one, hopefully I can get many more after this.”
And now, for the fourth consecutive road trip, the Rays are coming home with a winning record. Tampa Bay had been much more impressive in the last three ventures from Tropicana Field, going 5-1, 5-2 and 7-0. This time, after splitting in New York, the Rays are only 4-3 on the trip. But considering they were six outs away from losing Sunday, that sounds a lot better than a 3-4 road trip.
“Yes, it does,” Cash said. “Well said. I agree.”
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