SEATTLE — Shane McClanahan and the rest of the Rays saw how good Robbie Ray was last year when he won the Cy Young award pitching for the Blue Jays.
And while there wasn’t much said publicly in advance, McClanahan was eager for the opportunity to face off in a showcase of hard-throwing lefties on Thursday.
Better, he came out on top, as the Rays hung on the beat Ray and the Mariners 4-3 on a chilly night.
“He’s pretty good,” McClanahan said. “I was really looking forward to this matchup. The guy won the Cy Young for a reason. He’s a very good pitcher, a competitor, and he wants it. So it was cool to compete against him (Thursday). Watch him work before the game and everything.”
Catcher Mike Zunino, who had the key hit, a three-run homer in the Rays’ four-run fourth, knew it was a special showdown.
“(McClanahan) didn’t mention it, I don’t think anybody mentioned it,” Zunino said. But I think as competitors, that’s how you see it. You want to go up against the best of the best, and I think he did that and answered the call.”
Not that it was an easy night for the Rays, who saw a 4-0 lead in the fifth keep shrinking before they won their fourth straight to open a 10-game, three-city West Coast swing, all in their navy jerseys, improving to a season-high six games over .500 at 16-10.
Few nights are easy in Seattle, where last year the Rays were swept in a four-game series, blowing leads in each game and losing three on final-pitch walkoffs. That after being winless in four of their previous five visits, going 0-13 in 2016, ‘17, ‘18 and ‘21 combined and 3-0 in 2019.
“(You) try not to let (there be) carryover,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “I know what’s taken place but would expect to play a lot of tight ballgames. It’s nice to come out on top of this one.”
McClanahan wasn’t as dominant as in previous outings and said he couldn’t get into a rhythm. But he still was pretty good, taking a no-hitter into the fifth and allowing only three hits while working into the sixth.
He retired the first seven, then yielded two walks in a three-batter span in the third but did not allow a hit until Jesse Winker homered to center on the second pitch of the fifth. He struck out five, with 56 of his 86 pitches for strikes, including eight swings-and-misses.
“I felt good,” McClanahan said. “It was tough for me to get in a rhythm. ... I had to battle (Thursday). That’s a good team, a really good-hitting team. They made it tough. They did their homework. They came out ready.”
In a way, McClanahan may have showed more since he wasn’t at his best.
“I think he was maybe battling himself a little bit more than some of his starts, but I think — as I’ve said before, and I feel like I’m saying it every start — (it’s) his maturation process of him becoming the guy that you want to take the ball every fifth day,” Zunino said.
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“I just think he’s not letting little things get to him. He very well could have, and he’s just turning the page real quick. Filled the strike zone up with all four pitches. The (velocity) was there (Thursday). When he’s throwing three other pitches for strikes, 99-100 (mph) plays even better. So, it’s a tough lineup over there. He did a good job navigating them.”
And Ray, who tormented the Rays repeatedly last year during his stellar season with Toronto, proved fallible after all, allowing four runs in the fourth.
“We finally got to Robbie Ray,” Cash said. “He’s super talented, really, really good, and he had his way with us last year. We had enough to have a crooked number, a big inning.”
Manuel Margot got the Rays started in the fourth by bunting for a hit, stealing second and scoring on Harold Ramirez’s one-out single. Isaac Paredes blooped a single to center, and Ramirez made a good read and headfirst slide into third. Zunino, after fouling off a 3-0 fastball, drove the next one over the leftfield fence.
Though Ray is tough on many, Zunino likes the matchup of late, as it was his fourth homer off the lefty over the last two seasons, matching his most against any pitcher (also, Martin Perez).
He didn’t make it sound easy, though. “(He’s) the same guy,” Zunino said. “He’s got such great stuff. He doesn’t let you breathe much. The fastball is always in. The slider is right under it. You’ve just got to pick a spot and try to hunt it.”
The Rays got good enough relief work from Jason Adam, Colin Poche and Brooks Raley, who earned the save.
The Rays also played some good defense, including Paredes — the prospect acquired from Detroit for Austin Meadows — making a huge play with two on and two out in McClanahan’s messy third.
“I owe those guys a drink or two,” McClanahan said. ”Isaac saved the game.”
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