ATLANTA — Kevin Kiermaier had what manager Kevin Cash called “just an awesome game.’'
Kiermaier made a huge momentum-turning catch to end the fourth inning Sunday, leaping high at the centerfield wall to rob the Braves of at least an extra-base hit with two on.
He drew a key walk, battling back from a 1-2 count, to extend the Rays’ fifth-inning rally. He delivered one of their biggest hits, an RBI double in the pivotal seventh, then stole third and scored the go-ahead run.
But there also was the flop.
Kiermaier, one of the most athletic and graceful players in the game, looked neither, slipping on what he said was hard dirt, then tripping coming out of the batter’s box after bouncing a ball to first base in the third.
“I just try to play the game hard and run hard out the box, and that’s what I did, and I just wasn’t really getting a grip (with his cleats),’' Kiermaier said. “Trying to take off in the batter’s box and peel out right there and fall on my face was eventful. But those things happen at times, just laugh it off and try to have a better at-bat next AB, which I was able to do.
“So it’s all good. You never know what you’re going to see out on that field each and every day. Not how you draw it up. But those things happen. … This game will keep you on your toes.’' Or not.
Kiermaier’s offensive contributions were key, but the catch of Dansby Swanson’s drive to centerfield that likely would have hit off the wall was the latest example of his defensive wizardry.
“I knew I was getting closer to the warning track and then as I got closer, I felt that wall in my inner subconscious or whatever you want to call it,’' he said. “That’s why I always do my little jump there at the end because I was expecting to catch it and maybe have a step or two before I barely hit the wall. But always play it better safe than sorry.
“So happy to see that one go in the glove. Hit my head a little bit on the wall, but it didn’t hurt, so we’re good to go.’'
If you have been expecting more out of rookie Wander Franco, given the hype, the buildup and the tremendous success he had in the minors, you have company.
Franco does, too.
“The adjustment that I need to make is just go back and play like I used to play,’' Franco said before the game, via team interpreter Manny Navarro. “I’ve got a lot to show, and I still think I have a lot to prove at this level and to play like I normally play.’'
After going 1-for-3 with a tying home run Sunday, Franco, the 20-year-old switch-hitting infielder, is hitting .216 with three homers, eight RBIs and a .667 OPS. Inconsistency has been a problem, as is batting left-handed, where he’s hitting .125 (5-for-40) with no extra-base hits, 15 strikeouts and a .311 OPS.
“The confidence is going up little by little and just got to keep going and feel good,’' he said.
Franco, called up from Triple-A Durham on June 22, enjoyed going home to the Dominican Republic during the All-Star break and spending time with his family, and “they were able to calm me down.’' He also enjoyed that his mom made one of his favorite meals — goat.
• With two sacrifice flies, Austin Meadows now has 63 RBIs, tied for sixth most in the American League.
• Reliever Collin McHugh allowed an unearned run in the seventh, ending his scoreless streak that covered 23 innings over 11 appearances.
• Cash said they were “very excited” about Saturday’s second rehab appearance by pitcher Chris Archer, who has been out since early April due to an elbow issue. Over 1⅔ innings for Triple-A Durham, the right-hander “had a good fastball good velocity, and he showed a slider at times that is kind of the Chris Archer slider,’' Cash said.
• The Rays’ three starters against the Braves — Michael Wacha, Josh Fleming and Rich Hill — allowed a combined 14 earned runs in 12⅓ innings.
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