ST. PETERSBURG — A lot has been going wrong for the Rays lately.
On Saturday they looked to be doomed again, by a ball that struck a catwalk and a seemingly sound decision on changing pitchers that turned out badly. They were left trailing the Pirates by a run going into the ninth inning, then quickly were down to their last out and their last strike.
And from that dire situation, they rallied, with four consecutive hitters reaching base in an improbable 6-5 victory at Tropicana Field. Red-hot Isaac Paredes’ two-run single sent the Rays racing onto the field to celebrate a second straight walkoff win.
“You feel very happy, very emotional out there when you’re able to help out the team win the game,” said Paredes, via team interpreter Manny Navarro.
The Rays (39-33) had given away 2-0 and 3-2 leads by the time they got to the ninth inning. Pirates closer David Bednar got two quick outs, then to a 2-2 count against Ji-Man Choi.
“I just thought that we have to win the game,” said Choi, via team interpreter Daniel Park. “And if I don’t get a hit, I was just trying to get a walk.”
He did, as did Vidal Brujan, after being ahead 3-0, to put two on.
Manager Kevin Cash then made an interesting move, sending rookie Jonathan Aranda, in his second big-league game, to pinch-hit for Luke Raley, a slightly more experienced fellow lefty.
“Just a little bit more contact-oriented approach,” Cash said.
That worked, too. Aranda hit a ball crisply back to the mound that Bednar knocked down with his glove but had to chase. He didn’t have the footing to make a throw, loading the bases.
“All I was thinking was just get there, get there, get there,” said Aranda, via Navarro.
All of which led to Paredes’ latest star turn, coming after he had a team-record-tying three-homer game Tuesday against the Yankees, then went deep again Wednesday against the Yankees to become the first Ray to homer in four consecutive at-bats. Plus, he homered in the eighth Saturday — his team-leading 10th, and all in his last 25 games (since May 18) — to get the Rays within 5-4, doing a hand wave in front of his face inspired by wrestler John Cena.
“Right now he’s the greatest,” reliever Ralph Garza Jr. said. “He’s seeing beach balls up there. He’s locked in a zone right now.”
In the ninth, all Paredes needed was to line Bednar’s 0-2 fastball to right.
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His approach in that tense situation, leading to his first walkoff hit at any pro level? “Try not to think too much and just try to put the ball in play somehow,” Paredes said.
Paredes, acquired from the Tigers in a late spring trade for Austin Meadows, has had quite a few days.
“Definitely a dream come true this week,” he said. “It’s something that I haven’t experienced in the big leagues, and it’s been a great week.”
The happy ending allowed the Rays to forget about how they nearly lost. How Jalen Beeks faltered after taking over in the sixth for Corey Kluber (who threw only 63 pitches). The routine fly to right that struck the B-ring catwalk and dropped in for a single that put two on with one out in the sixth. And the ensuing Jack Suwinski homer that gave the Pirates a 5-3 lead.
Instead, they have back-to-back wins for the first time in 2½ weeks, ended a four-series losing streak and better balanced a team-record stretch of 11 consecutive games decided by two or one runs (the longest by any team since 2017), now 4-7.
Maybe, after a months-long stretch of mediocrity — 21-22 after an 18-10 start, and with Wander Franco expected to come back from injury today — two straight walkoff wins can get them on a roll?
“Hopefully, it continues to carry over,” Cash said. “These are momentum-builders. It’s good for this group of guys. We are a young group right now, and they need to feel good.”
Contact Marc Topkin at email@example.com. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.
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