ST. PETERSBURG — This game isn’t easy. You saw that when the Blue Jays struggled just to catch and throw the ball on Friday night. You saw it when Tampa Bay’s bullpen blew a save for the fourth time in eight days. You kind of saw it when Mike Zunino missed two different home runs by a handful of inches.
And that’s what makes Manuel Margot’s month of May something to behold.
He was the hottest hitter in the majors through the first nine days of May — sat on the sidelines for three days with a tender hamstring — and came back to deliver the go-ahead RBI single in the eighth of a 5-2 win against Toronto on Friday.
It was his sixth game-winning RBI of the season, tied for the most in the majors, and it was his fifth go-ahead hit in the eighth inning or later.
“Timing is everything when you’re hitting, and I think most hitters would agree with that,” manager Kevin Cash said. “When you alter the timing, you miss some at-bats or miss some reps, it can have an effect. … It’s very impressive that Manny sat three games, or whatever it was, and it felt like he was on everything tonight.”
For the record, Margot is hitting .471 in May (16-for-34) with three home runs and 14 RBIs in 10 games. He entered the game leading the majors in average, slugging and OPS for the month.
“You do everything you can to stay in your routine,” Margot said via team interpreter Manny Navarro. “You know (injuries) are going to be part of the game, and you might cool down, but I’m glad that the team is doing well.”
The Rays did a lot of things quite well Friday. Starting pitcher Drew Rasmussen was not overpowering but kept the Blue Jays off-balance with an assortment of sliders and cutters. Relievers Ryan Thompson and Andrew Kittredge came into two dicey situations and got big outs.
The offense struggled against Kevin Gausman — as a lot of teams have in recent years — but was opportunistic when Toronto failed to make some plays in the field.
The Rays got their first run on a Brandon Lowe triple — one of two he hit in the game — that centerfielder George Springer seemed to misplay. A few innings later, a Gausman throwing error led to another run.
Meanwhile, the Rays were playing stellar defense with leftfielder Randy Arozarena and shortstop Wander Franco robbing hits and Taylor Walls starting two exquisite double plays at third.
“You just can’t give outs away,” Zunino said. “It’s one of those things we work extremely hard on. Our infielders work extremely hard, and our outfielders take pride in what they do. We know if we make teams earn everything and we don’t give away any outs, we’re going to stand a good chance with our pitching staff.”
Want more than just the box score?
Subscribe to our free Rays Report newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
The bullpen faltered briefly in the eighth when Brooks Raley gave up three consecutive singles to blow a 2-1 lead, but Kittredge struck out Bo Bichette and got Vladimir Guerrero Jr. to hit into a double play.
Zunino then led off the bottom of the inning with a long drive to rightfield that bounced off the top of the padding for a double. Just three innings earlier, Zunino hit a line shot that struck just below the yellow padding on the leftfield wall.
Walls followed with an infield single, then Margot drove in the go-ahead run with a two-strike single to right to drive in pinch-runner Vidal Brujan.
“He came up clutch,” Cash said. “He was probably the right guy in the right spot to come through for us.”
• • •
Sign up for the Rays Report weekly newsletter to get fresh perspectives on the Tampa Bay Rays and the rest of the majors from sports columnist John Romano.