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Rays finally end Mariners’ mastery with triumph in series finale

The afternoon victory ends an 0-6 swoon against Seattle in 2021.
Rays catcher Mike Zunino celebrates his home run with third base coach Rodney Linares in the sixth inning Wednesday at Tropicana Field.
Rays catcher Mike Zunino celebrates his home run with third base coach Rodney Linares in the sixth inning Wednesday at Tropicana Field. [ ARIELLE BADER | Times ]
Published Aug. 4
Updated Aug. 5

ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays’ baffling Seattle swoon finally has been laid to rest.

Maybe, just maybe, so has the chatter of a Randy Arozarena sophomore jinx.

The Rays’ 2020 postseason wunderkind remained on his current tear with two extra-base hits, including a two-run triple in the third, to help lift his team to a 4-3 victory Wednesday at Tropicana Field.

The triumph, before a matinee audience of 9,701, was Tampa Bay’s first in seven meetings this season against Seattle, which has won 20 of the last 27 in this series.

“It felt really good,” said left-handed starter Josh Fleming, who earned his ninth win with five efficient innings.

“Guys were joking in the clubhouse, like, no one season sweeps us. They may get one series sweep, but they don’t do it again. It was just nice to get the win going into the off day and going into a long (nine-game) road trip.”

The victory kept the Rays (65-44) atop the American League East, one game ahead of the Red Sox, who defeated the Tigers 4-1 to halt a five-game losing skid.

Fleming exited after issuing a leadoff triple to Mitch Haniger in the sixth. It was one of the few flaws in his 75-pitch stint that included six strikeouts and no walks.

He retired his first eight batters, needing only eight and six pitches to get out of the first and fifth innings, respectively. A trio of relievers combined for the final four innings, with left-hander Ryan Sherriff working a perfect ninth for his first save of the season.

“I think when you look at (Fleming’s) outings, when he’s on this is what he’s doing,” catcher Mike Zunino said.

“He was able to use that cutter into some righties, the breaking ball early, a couple of good breaking balls to some lefties, got a couple of quick outs. Then his bread-and-butter, the sinker change-up. But realistically, it’s exactly who he is.”

Arozarena, hardly a model of consistency earlier in the summer, now has reached base safely in 13 of his last 14 games, batting .404 (23-for-57) with 12 extra-base hits during that stretch. He finished the Mariners series 7-for-11 with two home runs.

“He’s raking, he really is,” Fleming said.

“When he’s seeing the ball well, he’s a dangerous, dangerous bat. I think the first couple of months he struggled just a little bit, nothing crazy; everyone has their struggles. But right now he’s seeing the ball extremely well.”

Arozarena’s third-inning triple to deep center off Seattle starter Logan Gilbert, which got past the lunge of centerfielder Jarred Kelenic, followed Brandon Lowe’s leadoff double and a walk by Ji-Man Choi, giving the hosts a 3-1 lead. He added a double through the hole at shortstop in the fifth.

“I’ve been feeling really good,” Arozarena said through team translator Manny Navarro.

“I know it’s a very long season, you have your ups and downs, but I try to stick to my same preparation, the same routine that I told you guys before. As long as I stick to that, I let God kind of handle the rest and whatever happens happens.

A sixth-inning leadoff triple by right fielder Haniger, followed by designated hitter Kyle Seager’s sacrifice fly to deep right, cut Seattle’s deficit to 3-2. Zunino hit his 21st home run of the season — a two-out solo blast — in the bottom of the inning to again cushion the Rays’ lead.

The piecemeal bullpen, which amazingly owns a 1.49 ERA in the last 24 games despite a smorgasbord of injuries, neutralized Seattle from there. Sherriff needed only eight pitches to get through the ninth and formally end Seattle’s baffling dominance in this series.

“It’s one of those things where I can’t put a finger on it,” Zunino said. “Maybe it’s a better thing that the series with them is done, but hopefully we built some momentum (Wednesday) going into the offvday and we can really carry it over (starting Friday) in Baltimore.”

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