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Rays look more like themselves in beating Marlins

Kevin Kiermaier gets them started, Shane McClanahan delivers a strong start, and all ends well.
Wander Franco, left, celebrates with Kevin Kiermaier after the latter's inside-the-park homer during the first inning Tuesday against the Marlins.
Wander Franco, left, celebrates with Kevin Kiermaier after the latter's inside-the-park homer during the first inning Tuesday against the Marlins. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published May 25|Updated May 25

ST. PETERSBURG — Shane McClanahan was his usual self on the mound Tuesday, which is to say focused, powerful and dominant, throwing six shutout innings.

But there was a brief moment in the dugout when the Rays’ top starter let loose.

The team was coming off a hot, miserable weekend in Baltimore, losing in walkoffs twice in extra innings, while looking bad in doing so.

The Rays needed something to get them going, and after McClanahan zipped through a quick top of the first, Kevin Kiermaier provided it. The veteran centerfielder, elevated to the leadoff spot due to a recent hot streak, laced the first pitch of the home inning past diving centerfielder Jesus Sanchez for an inside-the-park home run that set the Rays on their way to a much-needed 4-0 victory over the Marlins.

“I went nuts,” McClanahan said. “Usually I’m a little more reserved. Obviously, I cheer for my teammates and stuff like that, but I found myself, like, jumping around. I’m like, ‘All right, you’ve got to pitch.’ "

Kiermaier was pretty excited, too, saying it was “a fun way” to start a game. But he admitted to being too winded — after spending Monday’s off-day doing pretty much nothing but playing with sons Karter and Krew, and swimming a bit — to fully enjoy it after sliding across the plate for the fourth inside-the-parker of his career.

But he was well aware how important a good start was after the rough series against the Orioles.

“It was big,” he said. “That was a big bounce-back win. Feeling good about ourselves again.”

By the end of the night, the Rays had gotten an additional cushion on homers by Harold Ramirez (his first) and Ji-Man Choi (a 412-foot blast). There was no drama as Dusten Knight and Ryan Thompson, who blew saves in both losses in Baltimore, got the final nine outs.

The Rays have a 25-17 record and are 4½ games behind the AL East first-place Yankees, who come to the Trop for a four-game series starting Thursday.

Rays starting pitcher Shane McClanahan delivers another fine outing.
Rays starting pitcher Shane McClanahan delivers another fine outing. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

McClanahan, who scattered four hits and struck out nine, said he had no doubt the Rays would play more like they usually do.

“That was a tough series for us (in Baltimore), but this just shows what this team (is), and that’s resilient, in and out,” he said. “I knew there was going to be a bounce back.

“KK set it off right, man. It’s just how it is. He’s our leader for a reason. He sets the tone, and we just follow him. It’s a pleasure to be his teammate. I can’t say enough great things about Kevin Kiermaier.”

Across the clubhouse, the admiration was mutual. Kiermaier called McClanahan “the best pitcher in the league,” noting the consistently high level at which McClanahan has performed. He is 4-2 with a 2.06 ERA and leads the majors with 74 strikeouts.

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“That dude is nasty,” Kiermaier said. “He’s incredible. I’ve got no other words. That guy is just lights out all year, and I don’t think many guys want to face that guy.”

McClanahan actually didn’t have the easiest night.

He cited a 12-pitch walk Jacob Stallings drew as an example of how hard the Marlins made him work, throwing 96 pitches over six innings. And he detailed the way he talked pitching coach Kyle Snyder into letting him finish the sixth if he got a double play after allowing two singles, which he did.

McClanahan also in the sixth was involved in the game’s oddest play, which manager Kevin Cash described as “pretty crazy.”

With Miami’s Garrett Cooper on third, McClanahan threw a pitch that bounced past catcher Mike Zunino. The ball caromed off the backstop wall, past Zunino and then past McClanahan, who fell as he tried to stop it.

But third baseman Isaac Paredes made it all OK, picking up the ball and throwing to Zunino, who tagged Cooper for the final out.

“That was a tactical move on my part,” McClanahan said with a straight face. “It was smart. Get out of the way. Trust the guy behind you.”

Contact Marc Topkin at mtopkin@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.

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