Whether it was the measured home-run trot of Nelson Cruz, who fought back tears as the opposing fans stood and cheered, or the madcap dash of Kevin Kiermaier, who ran around the bases faster than anyone had this season, it was another show-stopping performance for the relentless Rays.
“Our goal is to obviously score more than the other team,” Rays left-hander Shane McClanahan said. “We’re doing that pretty well right now.”
Almost historically, actually.
Tampa Bay scored early and often, making quick work of Minnesota, 10-4, at Target Field in Minneapolis on Friday night to maintain its five-game lead atop the American League East.
The Rays have scored eight or more runs in seven consecutive games, a franchise record. In the past 90 years, only the 2000 Oakland Athletics and 2001 Cleveland Indians have scored eight or more runs in eight straight games.
“It’s just a blast to be part of,” Kiermaier said. “We complement each other in a very unique way. We’re having more fun right now than we’ve had all season.”
Since Cruz arrived, no other major-league team has tallied more runs — period. But he’s not the only reason for the offensive uprising.
Every Ray in Friday night’s starting lineup got a hit. Seven different Rays batters drove in runs. They got four solo homers in all, including clear-the-fence shots by Cruz, Yandy Diaz and Mike Zunino, plus a sixth-inning mad scramble from Kiermaier that resulted in an inside-the-park homer.
“We’re putting up eight, nine, 10 runs (every night) and everyone is contributing,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said.
Cruz, the former Twin, helped that cause with his third-inning solo home run, a line-drive shot into the left-field stands. It was a nice story as Cruz went 2-for-4 and reached base four times in his return to Minnesota.
When Cruz’s homer left the park, the Twins fans roared and stood in salute.
“It was really cool,” Cash said. “Very classy.”
McClanahan (7-4), who went 5-1/3 innings to pick up the victory, was not sitting in the dugout. But he heard the roar and thought the Twins had made an excellent defensive play.
“They told me Nellie hit a homer,” McClanahan said. “And I said, ‘And they all went that loud?’ It shows you how well-respected and how well-liked he is.’’
Cruz was a great story, but not the only story.
Following the seventh game of a nine-game road trip, the Rays have scored 65 runs and hit 18 homers during that stretch.
The offensive production was more than enough for McClanahan, who struck out six. He needed a career-high 101 pitches and surrendered eight singles.
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The Rays never trailed. Randy Arozarena’s two-out RBI double in the first opened the scoring, then Diaz led off the second with his solo homer and the scoring race was on.
After the Twins chased McClanahan, closing the margin to 6-3, the Rays again hammered home their point in the seventh inning. They scored four times. Joey Wendle produced a bases-loaded single. Kiermaier drove home two run with a single of his own. Manuel Margot added the capper on a sacrifice fly.
But Kiermaier’s biggest moment came in the sixth. He hit a long drive high off the right-field wall and it bounced away from Trevor Larnach. Kiermaier, not running that hard to first base, kicked it into overdrive and third-base coach Rodney Linares was a willing accomplice.
Twins second baseman Jorge Polanco juggled the relay, giving Kiermaier that extra second he needed to slide home safely with his third career inside-the-park homer.
“I kind of got caught watching it between home and first,” Kiermaier said. “I thought it would be a triple at first, but I kept running.
“It’s an exciting play. Check the box score. My homer counts just the same as Nelson Cruz, Yandy Diaz and Z (Zunino). … Haters gonna hate. Players gonna play.”
Nobody is hating on the Rays right now.
“It’s pretty neat and pretty remarkable to see this,” Cruz said. “Every night, someone new is stepping up. We are playing really well.”
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