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Rays piece together win at Cleveland, move into tie atop AL East

Five relievers combine for a solid day on the mound, and Ji-Man Choi sparks the offense to an early lead.
The Rays' Brett Phillips celebrates his solo home run during the third inning Saturday against Cleveland.
The Rays' Brett Phillips celebrates his solo home run during the third inning Saturday against Cleveland. [ TONY DEJAK | AP ]
Published Jul. 25
Updated Jul. 25

CLEVELAND — For all the uncertainty the Rays had going into Saturday night’s game, it worked out pretty well in an 8-2 win over Cleveland.

Those concerns about covering nine innings with all relievers after being left without a starter following Friday’s trade of Rich Hill?

Not a problem. Five relievers combined to allow just five hits and two runs, striking out 10 and walking none.

The offense, which has been slow to start on most nights?

Saturday night was all right for hitting, as the Rays delivered the early lead that took the pressure off the pitchers, scoring four in three innings.

Ji-Man Choi finished with four hits, including an opposite-field homer and two doubles. Austin Meadows, who had not homered since June 23, hit two, giving him 18 for the season, and 70 RBIs.

And the end result?

The win was the Rays’ fifth straight, pushing them to 60-39 and a season-high 21 games over .500. Better, they got back into first place for the first time in a month, now tied with the Red Sox, who come to the Trop next weekend.

“We’ve got a lot of baseball left,’' manager Kevin Cash said. “We know the other club is winning at a pretty good rate. We want to do the same thing.’'

The Rays didn’t know exactly how their pitching was going to work Saturday and what the workload limits or options would be.

Drew Rasmussen, acquired in May from Milwaukee, got them off to a solid start, needing just 11 pitches in the first that allowed him to work three innings.

Next was Louis Head, who was selling solar panels before getting a prespring tryout and a minor-league contract. Summoned on Friday from Triple-A Durham for the seventh time, he worked two strong innings, striking out four. But he got into a mess, allowing a single to open the sixth and making a throwing error.

No sweat. Unlikely All-Star Andrew Kittredge, despite working two innings (27 pitches) Friday, did what he does — and against Cleveland’s top hitters — getting out of trouble and one run scoring.

Lefty Jeffrey Springs, acquired in February after being designated for assignment by Boston, worked the next two innings.

Then they turned to the typically reliable Diego Castillo to close it.

“That was pretty awesome,’' Cash said. “Just great performances by everybody. Rass really set the tone. Louis Head comes in and does an awesome job. Gets in a little bit of a jam on a tough play and then Kitt comes in and kind of quiets everything. Springs was efficient. And then Diego for the ninth. It really, really worked well.’'

Especially for Head. As if making his debut in April wasn’t enough, Saturday he earned his first big-league win against his former Cleveland team.

“The whole season’s been crazy,’' Head said. “Getting called up on my (31st) birthday and then making the debut this year, that was amazing. Then getting my first win against a team I played seven years in their organization for, that was amazing, too. So it’s been like a dream come true, to be real with you all.’'

Choi had a pretty good night, too, going 4-for-5 with three RBIs. He said it was a carryover from Friday, when he switched to a Marucci-brand bat before hitting a homer in the ninth. Using the same bat Saturday, he went homer, double, groundout, double, single.

Though the cycle wasn’t possible, Choi said teammate Kevin Kiermaier offered him $5,000 before his last at-bat if he hit a triple. “I really tried,’' he said via team interpreter Steve Nam, “but it didn’t work out.’'

That was about the only thing for the Rays that didn’t.

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