ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays won Tuesday’s game in a most dramatic and extremely thrilling way. Taylor Walls laced a two-strike, two-out pitch off the rightfield foul pole for a three-run homer that gave them a 4-2, 10-inning walkoff victory over the Cardinals.
“Incredible,” Rays centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier said. “We needed that. We needed that win how things have been going for us lately. For him to come up huge right there, biggest hit of his career. Just incredible.”
Walls wasn’t sure how to react for his first walkoff hit, first thinking the ball was hooking foul, nearly veering past first base to celebrate, sprinting what felt like full speed around the bases in “a blur” before tossing his helmet as he neared home, getting happily soaked during his TV interview.
“As soon as that ball hit the foul pole, I don’t know what happened,” Walls said. “It felt great.”
But there was more that went into it as the Rays improved to 32-23 as they seek to gain some traction after a month of mediocrity (14-13 since May 8).
Like the powerful throw Kiermaier made to the plate to keep it a one-run game in the 10th, nabbing Paul Goldschmidt thanks to a nifty tag by catcher Francisco Mejia.
“KK’s our Platinum Glover, so we lean on him a lot out there,” reliever Colin Poche said. “It was just a pretty special play all the way around. Sometimes it’s easy to overlook what KK does, because he does it so regularly, but that was pretty special.”
Starting with a runner on second, the Cardinals quickly loaded the bases when second baseman Vidal Brujan threw wide of third on a leadoff grounder and Poche hit Nolan Arenado.
A sac fly gave the Cardinals a 2-1 lead, and they were looking for more when Harrison Bader singled to center. But Kiermaier charged hard, got his body behind the throw and cut loose.
“I was just trying to get to it as quick as possible,” Kiermaier said. “Just trying to be efficient in that moment. My left foot kind of slipped as I threw it and when I got up my pants were like all to the side. I fell and scraped my elbow, But it ended up working out. So I’ll take it.”
Like the job Poche did to limit the damage to the one run in the 10th.
“He did an amazing job,” manager Kevin Cash said. “It’s very easy to get unraveled in those situations when you’re working with a guy that’s placed on second — he’s not your runner — and just the amount of traffic and the amount of quality executed pitches you have to continue to make when guys are getting on base. …
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“To get out of that inning the way it continued to unfold with nobody else (scoring) was just as big as Wallsy’s home run.”
Like the six scoreless innings starter Jeffrey Springs provided in maybe the most impressive of his six outings since moving into the rotation last month, with a 2.01 ERA to show for it.
“He was awesome,” Cash said. “Awesome again.”
Like the talk Walls had with assistant hitting coach Dan DeMent early Tuesday about slowing the game down in key at-bats.
Such as when Walls batted in the 10th after Isaac Paredes drew a leadoff walk from Drew VerHagen, and Arenado made a remarkable play on a Brett Phillips bunt to get an out at third and pinch-hitter Yandy Diaz popped up.
“Trying to stay calm, really just trying to breathe, stay relaxed,” Walls said. “Honestly, once I step in the box, start to get ready, not trying to let the moment speed up, trying to stay really composed and just trying to treat it just like I would if I was in the backyard playing wiffle ball. I think just that composure, the same heartbeat as I would like playing wiffle ball — I mean, that’s really what it came down to.”
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