ST. PETERSBURG — Several hours after his formal induction into the Sports Club of Tampa Bay Hall of Fame, former Rays manager Joe Maddon watched his current team oblige him with a bit of pop and circumstance.
At least momentarily.
The Rays answered two first-inning Angels home runs with three runs in the bottom of the first, then got a solid effort from an ensemble of pitchers for a wild 4-3 triumph Friday before a Tropicana Field crowd of 7,909. The win, Tampa Bay’s third in a row, was the 500th for manager Kevin Cash.
“This is a special job to have,” the 43-year-old Gaither High alumnus and Tampa native said. “I’m so appreciative of the people that I get to work with and certainly the players. You get these wins because of the talent you have, and I’ve been really fortunate.”
As craziness goes, few are likely to top victories 499 and 500 in Cash’s collection.
A night after topping the Red Sox 1-0 when Manuel Margot scored on a walkoff wild pitch, the American League East-leading Rays (46-31) delivered another bizarre climax.
With one out and the bases loaded in the seventh, Rays pinch-hitter Brandon Lowe was hit by a pitch from sidearm right-handed reliever Steve Cishek, allowing Yandy Diaz to score the eventual winner.
Preceding Lowe were consecutive walks drawn by Diaz and Ji-Man Choi, setting up Austin Meadows’ high, one-out pop-up to shallow left that fell between a triangle of Angels players to load the bases. Maddon went out to argue with home-plate umpire Bill Miller that the infield-fly rule should have applied.
“It’s a play we should have made, I don’t deny that,” Maddon said. “I’ve got to find out about the communication. But to me it was in that area that could have, should have been called an infield fly.”
“Infield fly did not come to mind,” he countered. “I thought that the leftfielder had it. I heard him call it, and I’m not sure what happened after. You take any hit you can, especially at this level.”
Four batters into the game, Maddon’s club had a 2-0 lead. Angels resident pitcher-slugger Shohei Ohtani sent Rays opener Andrew Kittredge’s third pitch deep to rightfield, where it hit a D-ring catwalk en route to a 453-foot home run. The blast, which had a 116.1 mph exit velocity, was Ohtani’s career-best 24th of the season, and sixth in his past nine games. Ohtani becomes the first player to hit a leadoff homer and record a win as a pitcher in the same season since 1891 (when two players did it), according to Elias Sports.
Three batters later, Anthony Rendon followed with a solo homer to left.
The lead was as fleeting as a Florida thunderstorm.
The Rays scored three in the bottom half off 25-year-old right-hander Griffin Canning, who allowed a leadoff single to Diaz before walking Choi. Rookie Wander Franco followed with a deep fly that leftfielder Taylor Ward could not handle, scoring Diaz. Meadows followed with a two-run single to left-center, but he was thrown out trying to stretch it to a double.
The Angels added an unearned run in the third, putting runners at the corners before Jared Walsh’s sharp grounder to first baseman Choi, whose quick throw home was dropped by catcher Francisco Mejia, allowing David Fletcher to score.
The eventful start belied a strong collective effort by a quintet of Rays pitchers.
Kittredge followed his shaky opening inning with a seven-pitch second. Left-hander Josh Fleming followed him and, after a sketchy four-batter sequence resulting in an Angels unearned run, retired 11 in a row. Collin McHugh allowed only one hit over 1⅓ innings, Matt Wisler pitched a perfect eighth, and Diego Castillo pitched a 1-2-3 ninth for the save.
“The bullpen’s been exhausted here as of late,” Cash said, “but they’re coming through big-time for us.”
• • •
Sign up for the Rays Report weekly newsletter to get fresh perspectives on the Tampa Bay Rays and the rest of the majors from sports columnist John Romano.