SEATTLE — The season-high sixth straight win, the happy homecoming for Washington native Drew Rasmussen and the first career grand slam at any level by Manuel Margot were all significant accomplishments by the Rays on Saturday night.
But the bigger deal might have been getting Brandon Lowe hot.
The slugging second baseman appeared to find the power stroke he has been searching for, swatting home runs in back-to-back plate appearances to lead the Rays to an 8-2 victory that improved their record to 18-10.
“Yeah, that was really encouraging,’' manager Kevin Cash said. “Good for Brandon. I know he likes hitting home runs. We like it when he hits home runs.’'
Lowe’s drive to right-center to lead off the fourth ended the longest homerless drought of his five-season career, with 19 games and 79 plate appearances/69 at-bats since his last one on April 14 (and three total). He had to wait only until his next time up to hit another one, driving a first-pitch fastball out to right.
Lowe said it didn’t feel like a long time since his previous homer, noting he had been hitting the ball hard just not out of the park, and he had hits in six of his previous seven games.
Also, he had been drawing walks, which he said makes him more comfortable seeing more pitches and getting his timing, plus making some small adjustments during extensive work in the batting cage that he admitted included “a few angry swings.’'
“We figured some stuff out,’' Lowe said. “I have a notebook that I write a lot of stuff down in, and hopefully we cracked a few codes and we’re going to start having some fun.’'
He seemed to especially enjoy the first home run, taking a long look and a slow trot. Lowe said that was more because he felt Seattle starter Marco Gonzales rushed him with the first pitch — a fastball he took before crushing the next pitch, a changeup — than it was breaking the drought.
Lowe, who hit 39 home runs last year despite a slow start (four through the same number of games as this year), tends to hit them in bunches. (Related, Saturday was the sixth straight time in seven career multihomer games that he went deep in consecutive plate appearances.) Cash had said Tuesday in Oakland that he sensed Lowe was going to start hitting them soon. What was the clue?
“Just getting closer with his contact rate,’' Cash said Saturday. “The misses kind of turned maybe into ‘just misses.’ Nothing that really stuck out. Just felt like, more importantly than anything, he’s really good. He’s not going to go south much longer. He’s proven that he’s a really good hitter.’'
Just making the start was a big deal for Rasmussen, who grew up in Washington state and had 42 relatives and friends in a suite down the rightfield line watching him. Pitching five solid innings, allowing one run and five hits, and working out of a couple of jams made it even better.
“It’s awesome,’' Rasmussen said. “We don’t get the opportunity to come back here and play all too often throughout the year. So to have everyone in attendance and the ability to play well in front of them, it’s truly a blessing.’'
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The Rays made it easier by grabbing an early lead on a chilly night (first-pitch temperature 47 degrees), getting one in the third when Yandy Diaz tagged up at second and scored on an errant throw to third, then the two Lowe homers.
They broke it open with five in the eighth, ganging up on ex-mate Diego Castillo. The Rays got one on two singles, a wild pitch and a dash home on a grounder by Wander Franco, who had three hits.
Then after Lowe walked, they tagged on four more with Margot’s blast to left, which was the Rays’ first slam of the season. “And,’' Margot said, via team interpreter Manny Navarro, “I hit it off Diego.’’
The Rays had another accomplishment, winning in their gray jerseys. They had won five straight since debuting their delayed-in-production navy blue jerseys on Monday, but they were forced to wear their standard-issue road grays on Saturday. That was because the Mariners opted to wear their dark blue jerseys — at the choice of starter Gonzales — as the home team gets to pick, and teams can’t wear similar colors.
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