ST. PETERSBURG — There was a lot of good for the Rays on Sunday, as they beat the Orioles 7-5 and got to the All-Star break with a 51-41 record and the top spot in the American League wild-card race.
Randy Arozarena hit his second homer in two days, and Brett Phillips had his first in two months. Corey Kluber pitched six solid innings. Brandon Lowe rapped four hits in his second game back from the injured list. Reliever Pete Fairbanks made his season debut after an extended injury absence. They completed a 6-1 homestand and won for the 11th time in their last 16 games.
But, as has been the case much of this season, there was also some bad. And some pain.
Harold Ramirez, one of the Rays’ most productive hitters, broke his right thumb when hit by a pitch in the first inning and will be out at least four to five weeks, the latest in an ongoing and frustrating string of injuries to key players.
“Know we’re getting Brandon back, lose Wander (Franco),” manager Kevin Cash said. “Get Brandon back, lose Harold. It irritates you.”
The four-day break will provide welcome rest for the Rays — except for All-Star pitcher Shane McClanahan — as the veterans who have been grinding can relax and the young players pressed into high-stress duty can catch their breath.
Also, team officials can plot how to deal with their latest loss of Ramirez, who will push their injured list back to 16, as they look to extend their recent run and wait for the hopeful late-season returns of Franco to boost their push for the postseason.
“Hopefully we can find ways to get healthier,” Cash said. “It doesn’t feel good. I mean, (Sunday), Ramirez, it’s almost like head-scratching. But we do feel good about the way this team has competed. Dealt with some adversity and feel like we’re still learning a lot and getting better.”
The Rays got off a quick start Sunday, taking a 6-0 lead by the third, then hanging on as the Orioles closed to 7-5 in the eighth, with Fairbanks and Jason Adam teaming for the final six outs.
Two pitches after Ramirez was hit by Jordan Lyles’ 91-mph fastball, Arozarena hit a 415-foot homer to center, his second in two days, 12th of the season and 13th in 30 career games against the Orioles, to go with his .380 average (46-for-121) and 29 RBIs.
“I think I will go into the break a little bit happy, and then hopefully I’ll continue doing that when we come back,” Arozarena said, via team interpreter Manny Navarro.
Phillips’ three-run homer in the third was his first since May 17, with 41 games and 102 at-bats in between. Given his overall offensive struggles — a .147 average, 4-for-his-last-50 — to say the homer felt good was a massive understatement.
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“Oh, man, it feels great,” he said. “It felt like my first home run in the big leagues, just because it’s been so long. It’s very encouraging with the amount of work I’ve been putting in. You can work so hard, but if you don’t see anything in the game, it’s frustrating, right?”
Said Cash: “Excited for Philly. He wears it on his sleeve. He wants to contribute at the plate. He’s certainly doing that defensively. ... The team needed that one. He needed that one. And hopefully he can go into having a little bit more relaxed All-Star break.”
Kluber allowed four runs, but worked ahead most of the day and limited the damage to two runs in a messy fourth when five reached. He worked six innings for a third straight start and ran his winning streak to three, both for the first time since 2018.
As beat up and beleaguered as the Rays have been, they have the third best record in the league, and a 3 1/2 game cushion to be in the playoff field.
“It feels good to be able to be in the position we are now,” Arozarena said. “The goal is to always be in the playoff hunt somewhere to qualify for the playoffs.”
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